We have three more reminders of the reality of transformation this morning; it’s hard at best and often impossible. HP reported their quarterly numbers, Alcatel-Lucent got its new CEO, and Google launched a serious Chromebook, and the three represent different aspects of a common vision of the future, which is “the cloud”.
HP’s challenge is that the Internet has been the draw for incremental growth in PC usage, and of course you don’t need a PC to be on the Internet. Since HP is a name in PCs and not a name in tablets or phones, it’s representing a minority segment of the device market. No matter how much Whitman wants to talk about how well this or that PC has been received by shows and reviewers, the contraction in the PC market she talks about isn’t a 4Q phenomena, it’s permanent. The PC business is going to be an albatross for HP, and of course for Dell, unless you can make it more symbiotic with the cloud.
Google’s Chromebook Pixel is an example of how not to do that, in my view. Here’s a gadget that will cost you substantially more than a typical laptop (I bought one recently, well-equipped, for about a third of Pixel’s list price), but it tries to hide functional deficits in coolness. Apple has always been cool, but it’s also been highly functional in all its devices. Pixel just doesn’t have the functionality needed to pull users away from tablets or PCs, which means it targets that fuzzy transitional space of people who want “more” than a tablet and “less” than a PC.
Solving both HP’s and Google’s problems is a matter for the cloud. The thing I think is clear is that we really have to embrace the notion that “the cloud” goes all the way to the edge, to the appliance, in a resource sense. An application in the future isn’t client/server, it’s cloud. Functional elements are hosted where they can be, and run as needed. The difference between a thin or thick client is (you guessed it) thinness or thickness in a function-hosting sense. Microsoft may be heading in that direction with Office 365, but if you’re a Google or an HP you need to be leading the charge to the new vision, not waiting for Microsoft to pull your chestnuts.
HP has been sadly unfocused on its vision of the cloud, and in some ways their earnings call demonstrates the reason. They’re all locked up in product-silo profit centers where everyone tries to make their own numbers and the company’s numbers are just what it all adds up to. You can’t have technical integration of resources and users and not have business integration of the elements that support those communities. Business integration means one goal, one cloud, for all.
You might wonder where Alcatel-Lucent fits into this picture, so let’s look at them now. For literally half a decade, Alcatel-Lucent has been a leader in envisioning the service layer of the network. What is a service layer? It’s a cooperative community of resources and features/components that provides a means of dynamically assembling an experience from the functionally optimum pieces, then puts each piece in the cost/performance-optimized place to run. In short, it’s a cloud. The problem they’ve had is that they didn’t (and still don’t) articulate their cloud story to match their service-layer story. We’re back to silos in an ecosystemic market.
What’s bringing this to a head for all of the players is the advent of the dynamic network duo of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization. SDN technology is not going to spread itself over the Internet in a couple years. Likely never, in fact. What SDN technology will do is to support ENCLAVE networking, the networking of behind-the-scenes resources and elements that combine to create experiences. It’s an intra-service-layer technology, and the bigger the service layer is the bigger SDN is. NFV technology is going to define the framework in which resources and components combine, the architecture of the service layer, because you can’t pull functions from cooperative devices in a network, host them on servers as discrete elements that don’t communicate with each other, and expect you’ll end up with the cooperative behavior you started with. Even enterprises will be impacted by NFV because NFV is the initiative most likely to create the platform-as-a-service architecture that real cloud applications will be written to.
HP should have seen that, and HP should have pushed itself in that direction while PCs were a cash cow and not carrion. Google should have seen that and created the framework before they started pushing Chromebooks, before they asked users to buy into something that’s not the answer to the general market needs. Alcatel-Lucent should have seen that and made their cloud the cloud of the real future and not just another cloud-computing service platform offering.
You can’t talk about how cows digest without talking about grass, you can’t talk about how grass grows without soil chemistry, you can’t talk soil chemistry without understanding the biology of the whole ecosystem whose refuse feeds the soil, and that gets you back to cows. If the cloud is real, we’re all in it together, and we have to first look up to the cloud if we want to GO up.