The race to do nothing: how disruptors become dominant

The biggest transportation company has no cars, no drivers (uber).

The biggest accommodation company has no buildings (airbnb).

There’s this race on to do as little as possible, to just sit between A and B and handle the relationship creation. And so too is this happening in computing. It used to be one would buy servers, air-conditioning, batteries, generators, switches, cable, and wire it all up. One would write the software, hire the team, etc. And life was good.

And then came cloud. And for a while, we were content with moving from our private data centres to someone else’s data-centre. We forgot all we learned, and instead clicked API’s and buttons. And life was better.

And then came containers. Why would we want to run our own kernel, we can share someone else’s and pretend that we don’t have a full OS installed w/ all its warts. And life was even better.

And then came Event-driven serverless (AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, etc). And wow, we then realised how fat and ugly those containers were, we were running operating systems on someone else’s kernel. And life got even simpler.

And now, well, its library as a service. Just let someone else do all the work and select a couple of libraries from a web page. Don’t even compile or run them, just select them.

And now you have no job.

Many years ago I became a fan of Clayton Christensen. And, since steel is in the ‘it’s easy to win a trade war’ news, let me refresh this for those who haven’t seen it. You see, steel mills used to be small cities, and employ thousands. And then mini-mills came along, and step by step took away the ‘hard’ bits, which the big mills welcomed (who would want to know how to run a data centre is similar to who would want to know how to unload coke from a barge). And then US steel went bankrupt (from hiring 340K people in 1943). When Reagan stepped and protected them (huge tax breaks, foreign tariffs), the steel industry just collected that cash and shipped it abroad. They didn’t innovate, they took their learning and left town.

There is no free lunch. You might think there is no ‘state’, that you can transition from server to instance to container to serverless to a function somehow. You are in denial my friend. If you have no state, you have no business, you’ve outsourced it. You are US Steel.






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