Farrah Fawcett and A Billion in Petty CashMy marketing guy and I were talking the other day about things that were ubiquitous in our youth. You know, items that every guy your age either had, or had to have, to keep up with their contemporaries. I must confess that I had a little trouble with this since I was lucky enough to be born at a time when there always seemed to be something new—or better, new and improved—to attract the covetous eye of the average 15 year old. Things like video games and hand held devices were in their infancy, so the excitement of each new product introduction quickly gave way to something better, so it was hard to identify just one or two things. My marketing guy had no such problem. Without hesitation he said, “A Farrah Fawcett poster”. Did I mention his teen years were in the 70’s? Apparently, a 2×3 rendering of the alliterative member of “Charlie’s Angels” could be found in the bedroom of virtually every male in the United States under the age of 18 in 1976. By today’s standards, a picture of a seated blonde in a one-piece bathing suit is pretty tame, but was pretty risqué stuff amongst the leisure suit wearing crowd of the time. Everybody just had to have one. I think this is what’s happening in the public cloud marketplace right now as evidenced by Cisco’s latest announcement.

While the public cloud has nothing in common with the late Ms. Fawcett other than the fact that you can Google a picture of the poster in question, it’s pretty obvious that Cisco wants to add “cloud provider” to their metaphorical bedroom wall. I guess maybe they thought it was easier to become a public cloud provider than to sell equipment to them. Although this move might strike some as strange—they generate $49B annually peddling networking gear—it doesn’t look like the boys are jumping into the fray with all the enthusiasm of the average dilettante. No sirree, Bob. These guys are so serious that they grabbed a billion from petty cash to spend over the next two years to build up the infrastructure that will run it’s new Cisco Cloud Services. That folks, is commitment.

Sometimes in an effort to ensure that we can keep up with the metaphorical “Joneses” we have to throw caution to the wind and jump right in. This seems to be the case with Cisco, since a number of cloud participants are involved in a price war at the moment. While not the equivalent of a Crazy Eddie campaign—“We’re practically giving them away”—AWS, Google and Rackspace, among others, have been engaged in some pretty aggressive price-cutting. Depending on their model, and intentions, this may work in Cisco’s favor. My marketing guy said that by waiting a few months, he was able to pick up his Farrah poster on clearance, so obviously market timing is an important consideration in pretty much any business related decision.

While the public cloud tends to fall a little short on the iconic scale, I think most of us believe that its useful lifespan will be somewhat longer than that of a picture of a former Charlie’s Angel, so it looks like Cisco is in this for the long run. Sometimes the desire to be like everyone else isn’t a bad thing. Especially when you have the money to adjust to changes in desires over the course of time—and let’s face it, the future wants of cloud customers are going to be a little less whimsical than new embellishments for a bedroom wall. I think the lesson here is that you should be selective in deciding on the things that you just have to have and keep a lot of petty cash on hand. For example, my marketing guy recently found a vintage Farrah poster on eBay for $35. He didn’t buy it for two reasons: one his wife wouldn’t let him hang it in the house and two, he thought that was just a little too much petty cash.

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