May 17, 2016
Bob Dylan once wrote that “you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” and, except for a few misguided youngsters back in the 60’s who interpreted the phrase to mean go blow yourself up making pipe bombs, I think we’d all agree with the profundity of the lyric. Despite our inherent meteorological inclinations, however, Dylan did not mean that we all come to the same directional conclusion at the same time, and I think a recent survey by Green House Data, reinforces this point.
In their survey of 500 IT professionals, the folks at Green House found that more than half of respondents said they have no plans to add an edge data center. In probing to identify the reason behind this assertion, Green House discovered that this lack of enthusiasm was perhaps related to the fact that not everybody was in agreement as to what an edge facility actually was. As any DCIM provider can tell you, a lack of customer understanding is a substantial impediment to universal adoption and the “edge” phenomenon is apparently no different.
I don’t think that any of us should find this apparent lack of customer understanding terribly disconcerting since the “technological adoption curve” is very often distributed over an extended timeframe. This is especially true since the gestation period for functionality such as Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC) and the aforementioned DCIM seems to be taking much longer than anticipated. In many such instances, the disjoint between the enthusiasm for new technology or concepts within our industry is, I believe, due to our own lack of understanding of the various phases of said adoption curve. Under this paradigm the process of adoption can be viewed as follows:
Stage One: Innovators- In the data center industry this is the period where pundits begin to lead the charge for the next big thing by adding it to their annual lists of prognostications and articles begin to appear on influential industry web sites. While we insiders are beginning to work ourselves into a frothy lather, the average data center operator reacts with all the excitement that most of us reserve for a colonoscopy.
Duration: 2-3 years
Stage Two: Early Adopters- Translated this means that one or more of Google, Microsoft, Apple or Facebook is doing it. Now they are all “doing it” using their own proprietary methodologies but numerous articles appear stating that they are validating the concept for the masses. Multiple new firms arise with their own take on the concept. Someone like Cisco buys one of them, while the remainder begin their death marches shortly after their initial press release.
Duration: 1-1.5 years
Stage Three: Early Majority- At this stage you can’t swing a dead cat at a tradeshow without hitting someone talking about it. A consortium is formed to provide an open standard developed to “promote interoperability and accessibility for everyone”. Typically, this group is made up of the usual suspects, and “open standard” loosely translates to “do it our way or else”, but everyone appreciates the thought. A growing number of end users begin to implement the concept and a standard definition of what it is becomes, more or less, adopted.
Duration: 1-2 years
Stage Four: Late Majority- Also known as the “me too” phase due to the fact that its inclusion in IT budgets is usually justified by some variant of “x is already doing it”. This rationale is similar to the “everyone else has one” reasoning you used when you were eight, but whatever works, right? By now the next big thing is emerging but these end users are just happy with what they’ve got. If the concept were a fashion accessory this would be the time when people begin to downplay its significance by saying, “everyone has got one of those”
Duration: 1-4 years
Stage Five: Laggards- Using the rationale of “what the heck”, these guys finally decide to board the train. In effect, these are the same people who think their flip phone “works just fine”
Duration: At this point, who cares?
As you can see, while Green Houses’ findings may make for some interesting reading they are not out of the ordinary. Understanding and enthusiasm for new concepts like edge data centers takes time to build. In other words, you may not have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows, but you might want to look at the extended forecast as well.