Fads aside, IT is not a fashion industry

We're not as subject to flights of fancy and style whims as Larry Ellison and others may think. Beyond hype, there is a will to progress--and remain practical.

It's been said that information technology is a fashion industry--that we just keep following the latest hype and fads. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison last year referred to cloud computing this way.

Ellison loves this dig, and he uses it least once every technology generation. He's not alone. I, however, disagree with the entire curmudgeon corps' "It's just hype!" attitude.

While it's true that we in IT have our fashions, just like any field of human endeavor, we're generally pretty practical. It's hard to see either IT's executives or its technicians as highly subject to the whims of style or flights of fancy. The truth is closer to the notion that we're an evolving industry--one constantly struggling to find better ways.

It's not easy to grapple with the fantastic, relentless progress afforded by Moore's Law (on the supply side), nor the constant demand for more capacity, capability, and integration (on the demand side).

In a few short decades, IT has undergone a massive shift from an engineering-oriented support role to driving the beating heart of the global economy. IT is now central to large swaths of all human activity.

As new technologies and strategies come online--whether network computing, open source, agile development, service-oriented architecture (SOA), cloud computing, virtualization, or whatever--we seek to employ them to improve our outcomes.

There's always a bit of experimentation and a bit of hype involved in the early days. Indeed, without that willingness to "try it out" and a strong shot of enthusiasm on the side, we wouldn't be advancing as well as we are. That's not just hype you're hearing; it's also the will to progress. And for the most part, the recipe works.

Most of the major new approaches touted over the past few decades have become workaday parts of the IT landscape. Most apps, for example, are now "client-server" in design. Linux and other open-source engines run much of the Internet. SOA is how enterprise IT is designed.

The same Web services that Ellison derided years ago now underpin much of e-commerce, as well as high-interactivity Web 2.0 services such as Google Maps. And virtualization and orchestration--frequently discounted at the top of this decade--are now fundamentally changing how data centers are operated.

Indeed, when one of these previously experimental, previously hyped approaches recede from view, it's usually not because they've failed but because they've succeeded so well that we don't need to talk about them anymore. They've been burned into the way we do IT.

Each wave of technology builds on the last, incorporating its best parts, weeding out what didn't work, and often re-emphasizing themes that had appeared years before but weren't quite workable at that time--though often using different names. The utility computing, grid, and application service providers of years past, for example, have become the software as a service (SaaS, or more generally, ITaaS) and cloud computing of today.

So when something new comes your way--a new approach, a new strategy, a new way of looking at or doing IT--by all means, be skeptical. Try it out in careful, measured ways. But do try it out--and have enthusiasm for those new things. That's how we advance.

 

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