One of my favorite stories is one attributed to Christopher Wren, the architect behind St Paul’s Cathedral. The short version of the story is that Wren was visiting the worksite for St. Paul’s Cathedral. He came across a bricklayer diligently working away and asked him what he was doing and he replied he was laying bricks. A little bit later, he came across a second bricklayer and asked him what he was doing, and he replied that he was making a living. Finally, he came across a third bricklayer and asked him what he was doing and replied, with a gleam in his eye, that we was building a great cathedral.
So, what does this have to do with data center? Well, I think our market has a lot of folks that are in bricklayer mode–they are happily simply supplying and laying bricks and quite proud of that–they don’t care what you build as long you build it with their bricks. Because of the increased attention and spend that data center is seeing, we are now seeing an influx of folks who are here to make a living. They might never have touched a brick before, but this is where the money is so this is where they are–maybe they will be here tomorrow and maybe not.
But if you look at IT companies today that are talking about building cathedrals–that have a fresh, defined vision and a blueprint behind it–the list is depressingly short. I can only think of a handful of companies that have an interesting and innovative view of the future and the ability to get there.
One of the reasons I love working at Cisco is that we are not really all that good at sticking to our knitting–much to the lament of analysts, press, bloggers, and probably an employee or two. We have a lot of cathedral builders tooling around in the halls here. However, I think the willingness to spin a new vision and then chase it is good for the industry and for our customers. I know that may sound a bit arrogant and it is not meant to. I say its good for our customers, not because we have a lock on what the future should look like, but because it sparks some great conversation, expands thinking, and creates an opportunity to question the status quo. In the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to introduce customers to such new and alien concepts as Data Center 3.0, unified fabric and unified computing. Sometimes the light bulb goes off for customers, sometimes they throw up all over it, most often they land somewhere in between. In all cases, it has sparked invaluable conversation on what kinds of problems customers are facing, where we can solve and how we can help them move beyond simply treading water.
Eventually, that conversation evolves into planning and execution. Our advocacy of unified fabric is a great example. Initially it was discounted by other folks in the marketplace, but the reality is that kicked off some significant M&A activity and now you can find unified fabric support on the roadmap of every major vendor (availability is another matter ). From a customer perspective, we gave them a new way to look at tackling their infrastructure sprawl as well as ways to increase the value they are wringing out of their SAN and improving the ability to scale their server virtualization strategy–it permanently changed the conversation.
Recently, for me the best part has been have been beating the Data Center 3.0 drum long enough that it is starting to come full circle. At VMworld, we saw companies draw on our Data Center 3.0 vision and build solutions with it. Savvis, TerreMark, and INX all released fully baked solutions that draw on Data Center 3.0 blueprint.
I know the importance of having “that vision thing” is often treated with skepticism, but I look at this way–bricks are a commodity, cathedrals are not.
So, what do you think–which companies have the best vision out there, why, and what do you think their odds are of pulling it off?