In my youth I was a bit of a fan of Bible stories. Not for religious reasons, mind, but simply because they strike me as being interesting historical vignettes that are sometimes applicable to modern situations. One I particularly liked was that of the Tower of Babel. For those who sadly missed Bible for Beginners, this tale tells of a united human race that spoke a single language.
Deciding they were actually quite interested in getting closer to God (in the physical sense, as well as the metaphysical one) they decided to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. So far into the sky that they would be able to see God, they thought. Now God took this initiative somewhat personally and decided to confound their speech so that they could no longer understand each other, thereafter scattering them around the world.
Obviously this tale provided the late, great Douglas Adams something to riff upon in his classic book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but his invention, the naturally translating Babel Fish, is a fiction and our world is full of people incapable of communicating with each other.
This lack of capability isn’t always related to language, however. One thing that struck me in the 15 or so years that I worked in the orbit of Silicon Valley was the technology industry’s distinct lack of capability when it came to explaining what they did in plain English.
The past 15 years of my life were spent trying to translate technospeak into plain English so that not technologists (that is, the vast majority of the population) could actually get their heads around the whys and wherefores of the latest technological developments. It was a frustrating and yet revelatory time. Frustrating because those tech companies tend to do such a bad job of what is seemingly so simple. Revelatory because when one helps to explain a particular technology to a layperson, one observes clouds clearing and a lifting of a heavy weight upon that person as they enjoy the “a-ha moment.”
I was reminded of this the other day when reading a post by someone from a large software vendor, Basecamp. Now what Basecamp does is both irrelevant to this article and would also lead us down a rabbit hole with little benefit. Suffice it to say that the company produces a variety of different software tools and is fairly successful. Not Google or Microsoft successful, mind, but successful enough that they have tens of thousands of customers and have reached that happy situation of business stability. They’ve also built a name for themselves for doing things different – bucking orthodox perspectives and diverting from the status quo.
And so it was last week with co-founder David Heinemeire Hansson writing his post explaining why the company has decided to move off the cloud. To summarize: Basecamp has stable resource demands, has a strong internal IT team and are building a long-term business that is not averse to capitalizing a long-term investment in hardware.
In other words: Basecamp is as far as you can get from the norm as is possible and the decision they’re making is therefore appropriate for them (although even on that I could argue) but not the right course for other organizations.
Here’s a quick 101 on why cloud makes sense for most companies:
- You don’t need a heap of cash to invest in capital assets, rather you pay as you go on a utility basis. As such, your costs are directly aligned to your revenue
- You still need a good IT team, but you don’t need to worry about infrastructure management, data-canter security and power redundancy. Sure there are things you still need to worry about, but there are less of them than for others
- You’ll be leveraging billions of dollars of investment in technology. True, you’ll be paying for it, but you can relax knowing that your cloud vendor of choice is 100% invested in providing you a safe, secure and robust platform
- If you have the misfortune of being in the middle of a natural disaster, you have one less thing to worry about because your IT assets sit remote from your physical location and are (probably) delivered with multiple levels of redundancy
- It allows the business to focus on its business 100% and enables it to devolve responsibility for non-core activities to third party providers
So if you are a stable organization, or at least one which is growing with smooth predictability and you have cash to buy expensive assets up front, your thought process might be different. If you have a team of IT practitioners on hand and a geographically distributed data-center resource that is all fed with multiple power and communication channels then have at it.
Of course if you do you’ll also want to closely follow global economics to ensure that any external factors don’t impact upon your demand planning. And you’ll want to budget for a bunch of engineers to research upcoming developments to make sure you don’t get left behind by developing technology approaches.
And, frankly, you’ll want to accept that your organizational focus will have to include an area that you’d previously enjoyed only giving limited thought.
So if that’s you, then go for it. For the vast majority of other organizations, carry on with what is now the new normal – focus on being cloud-first. In these difficulty times you have enough to worry about without taking on yet another burden.
Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He’s often being told that he has his head in the clouds.