Don't look at #containers as cost saving option v's VMs. That is a completely incorrect mental model.
— Fintan Ryan (@fintanr) January 19, 2017
One of the interesting conundrums in the growth of interest in, and usage of, containers is the fundamental misunderstanding of where the value in container lies for the vast bulk of companies. We frequently encounter situations where traditional IT organisations are viewing containers as a more cost effective virtual machine, with all the bells and whistles which a virtual machine has.
Now this is not surprising, the primary focus of IT departments in many organisations has been around cost reduction for decades. Add in the traditional outsourcing models that many people are still in the process of unwinding and you can see why this mind-set exists. Many traditional CIOs are almost manically focused on reducing TCO, along with eliminating risk by limiting change – an area we have covered in previous research.
To think of containers solely in a traditional TCO sense is to not only misunderstand their value, it also to continue to lock your organisation and business into an approach to technology which continues with the status quo – at the very time you need radical change. Make no mistake, the companies that are going to disrupt your industry understand just how stifling this old-school CIO mind-set is.
That is not to say that the utilization improvements are not profound – they are, for suitable applications. There are opportunities for lift and shift type workloads, but in the main it is cloud native applications that will benefit the most from containers.
The Change for Business Velocity
We have frequent conversations with organisations that are struggling with change. The understand this idea of “digital transformation”. They have multiple, multi-year, projects running. Various stakeholders are involved; vendors have been brought in with new technology stacks and multiple tactical initiatives are underway. And these projects are invariably failing.
There are four common problem threads that generally emerge once you start to dig into the companies. The first two are almost always immediately obvious – a very traditional IT department and business units operating in very discrete silos. The third is a little more insidious, it is the culture of blame embedded in the overall organisation. Most companies will talk of openness and transparency in their culture, but few companies have organisations that genuinely facilitate this openness and transparency. The final thread is that of mistaking tactical projects for strategic initiatives.
As an example of tactical versus strategic, your Big Data infrastructure is tactical, not strategic. The project may have a large enough capital outlay to get board level interest, but the reality is that the output of such a project is just the dial tone you need to build value upon. Data quality, having people who understand how to ask the correct questions and how to present the insights in a useful, and more importantly timely, manner is strategic.
When it comes to blame culture, I am reminded of a particularly large organisation I am aware of, where senior executives were on a training course. One of the CEOs direct reports came to give a talk, all very encouraging and told the group to take chances and do new things. And right at the end added the proviso – “just don’t get it wrong”.
This kind of blame culture exists in almost every large organisation. It is what makes CIOs risk averse, which in turn drives a focus on TCO, which then in turn slows everything related to technology down.
When a business wants, and needs, increased business velocity they need a technology organisation that can react fast to their needs. To create such a technology organisation, they often need to spend money, not save it. They need to empower teams, hire developers and give them freedom to experiment and fail. Going down this road is almost always about cultural change first, and then the technology.
TCO and the Future
The total cost of technology is, without doubt, out of control in many organisations. But it is out of control largely because of this relentless focus on TCO, outsourcing and risk management rather than delivering business value.
If you are a C-level exec, and you have the consultancy and out-sourcing companies who have spent the last twenty years helping you into your current technology mess, telling you that containers are the new silver bullet, ask yourself do I need to listen to this advice or should I look elsewhere?
You already know the answer to that question. And if your CIO is only focused on tactical tasks and cost cutting, find a new CIO. Your competitors already have.
Credits: Rock and Hard Place Image, Public Domain from Bobbi Jones Jones