One of Cisco’s internal mantras of late is the need to balance innovation with operational excellence. Our corporate CTO, Padmasree Warrior, laid out this argument as a part of a recent series predicting the future of collaboration. Essentially, a critical organizational debate is changing focus from “what takes precedence–innovation OR operational excellence” to “how do we balance the two?” Coming from the Silicon Valley, with its history of “fresh out of college” entrepreneurship and collapsing bubbles, this is a much needed discussion.
It occurs to me, though, that this is a question that the entire cloud computing market should consider.
Consider innovation. What will drive users to consider cloud computing over existing IT investments in infrastructure, process and culture? What we are rapidly finding out is that cost savings is not enough; those looking seriously at the cloud are expecting to be able to do things they couldn’t do before, such as spinning up large amounts of capacity for short periods of time or backing up data in new and innovative ways that allow for faster and more granular retrieval.
Innovation is critical to the success of cloud computing, bacause without some level of innovation of the technologies surrounding cloud computing (more on that distinction later), the entire space starts to resemble some form of self-service outsourcing–useful, but not really enough to compel the enterprise to change.
Consider operational excellence. Remember, cloud computing is an operational model, not a technology in and of itself. This means that one of the most critical differentiators that a cloud vendor can have is operational excellence. The stuff we IT people all know and love, the basics that we have all come to expect will “just be there”–uptime, scalability, availability, ease of use, etc.–must be exceptional if your service is to compete with the rest of the crowded cloud service market.
In fact, if innovation is the motivator for cloud computing, operational excellence is the glue that keeps customers using cloud services. When cloud vendors prove that they can do what enterprise IT has come to expect better, and with more security, customer control, service level assurance and compliance capabilities than otherwise available, the flood to the cloud will really begin. You may debate whether or not a third party can do better than internal enterprise IT, but if operational excellence is so critical to the cloud, expect innovations in support of meeting that goal to show up on a regular basis.
Cisco is definitely aware of this trade-off, and it is a critical element for one such innovation in support of operational excellence: unified computing. Cisco’s Unified Computing System is expressly targeted at providing a single, unified control environment for your infrastructure operations–using automation and carefully integrated systems technologies to drive operational excellence in your data center. With UCS, our Unified Service Delivery platform, and similar data center systems technologies, you can clearly see how Cisco strives to balance innovation with operational excellence in enterprise IT.