Don’t Tinder Your OpenStack
What a wonderful idea – get to know someone before you marry them! Seems obvious enough, right? You need to know what you’re getting into before you make a long term commitment.
Same goes for major purchases. Let people try out what they are going to buy. That practice has worked since barter and trade appeared as one of the main drivers of human innovation. It worked particularly well when trade was in its infancy, when a misunderstanding could lead you to a duel for your honor, and by the way also your life. That is really taking caveat emptor seriously! Today, we don’t fight to death to resolve trade misunderstandings, for the most part, we tend to use legal systems and rule of law, which can just seem like a slow death… and of course a lot of patience. Have you been in a situation, however, where you feel you have been mugged after actually getting that online order? It does not feel, smell, and perform as described and shown in the picture. Sometimes I really feel like walking to the store to play with the toys I’m going to buy.
Technology products are no different than any other product. In fact I would argue that it is more important to try before buy with technology products. Compare a laptop to a canoe. A canoe could simply be described as a small green boat propelled by paddles and made out of fiberglass. If you are an avid canoer you know there is quite a bit more to that. But it will probably do fine for the average person looking for a fun day at the lake with the family. On the other hand, a typical laptop is described today as a 64-bit quad-core system with 16 gigs of RAM and 1 Terabyte of Storage, not to mention graphic card and screen specs (very important for the gamers). This is actually very standard today, 10 years ago you had to include the CPU cycles per second (GHz) as a metric of performance. Most of the folks reading this would have probably missed the point of the comparison just because they work around my domain. But, the rest of you will sure get the point. Wouldn’t it be better to just try the laptop, maybe run some of the apps you predict you will need? After all a canoe is something you will probably use a few weekends every summer, while that laptop might actually be your daily companion helping you solve your daily problems!
One of the first companies to realize this was Apple. They saw past the success of the online model Dell pioneered and realized the model was practical but had its weaknesses. Customer relationship and trust was being diluted on the net. Folks will turn very often to their IT cousin to help them select that pc or that laptop. Dell was able to lower prices dramatically because they weren’t incurring the cost of the retail supply chain. Steve Jobs and his team knew there was a limit to this and this limit was becoming more apparent as prices for hardware chips were falling dramatically.
Apple gambled with their Apple Store model and their first sign of success came that first May weekend of 2001 when they made about a half a million of dollars from the 8000 folks or so who visited only two stores that opened. Today the store model is so successful that others are duplicating it. Last weekend I visited the Microsoft Store and notice a particular vendor dominating the floor, besides Microsoft with their Surface Pro. Yes, there were a few corners with the Nokias and HTCs. But when it came to tablets and laptops, Dell stood out significantly. I thought what do you know? The more things change the more they stay the same!
With this revelation also came some interesting question about my field. Where is the OpenStack Store? Why are sales folks speaking about what OpenStack can do with help of only a few PowerPoint charts? Why is PowerPoint animation today the best way to show the dynamics of OpenStack? While thinking about these question some interesting limitations surfaced, but also how to overcome those limitation.
The main limitation on selling OpenStack Solution is its inherent complexity. Most of the time setting up an OpenStack environment requires a paid proof of concept (PoC). From a seller’s point of view this makes sense. It gets customer commitment (skin in the game) and it offsets the cost of selling. However, from a buyer’s perspective, it sucks. It is like paying a fee just to walk in the Apple Store. It is a turn off. Enterprise buyers are used to it because they think they have no choice. Enterprise IT is too complex and they rather have third parties arranging their Technology “marriages”, than “dating” and navigating to all the complexity to decide for them self.
But, like with human marriages, technology marriage arrangement are coming to end and cloud is a determining factor. Enterprises have started to move from an IT shop to a cloud products and services consumer. They are able to map their business needs to a set of ready-to-go cloud solutions from trusted vendors. As enterprises get more time in their hands to better serve their business they also have more time to “date” the new cloud technology before they make any commitments. I predict that OpenStack, and any other cloud technology, will be sold in a store. But this is not like a traditional store; it will be a virtual store. A store where customers can come and with a few clicks of a button deploy an OpenStack cluster with similar characteristics from what they will want to run in production. This deployment will be available in the store for as long as customer will like to try the OpenStack setup and all of its features. This sales model will enable customer to “date” OpenStack before they commit to “marry” OpenStack.