Posted by: Jack Santos
My fervent wish for 2010 is that all the cloud hoop-la from vendors dies a slow, gracious death, and we continue to hear about real-world examples of success using new, and different, business solutions.
What's interesting about "cloud" is that it really isn't new -- but it does reinvigorate an option that has always been there for a CIO. Many companies I speak to are excited by alternatives and potential new ways of doing the work – sometimes cheaper, frequently faster, and often better -- see my recent Burton Group doc on "Elastic Computing" for more (if you are a client).
But a home phone voice-mail failure brought home what cloud is really all about, and how (in a small consumer based example) it really is an old dog with old tricks. In fact, it’s such an old dog, I think we can identify stages of computing based on cloud/non cloud maturity.
Stage 1: Do it yourself (DIY) voice-mail: You may all remember the answering machine – an early form of voice-mail – and how we flocked to it. Yes, tapes, mini tapes, even memory chips were different incarnations of the “home answering machine”. Prices started high (50-100 dollars or so in the 60s – I’d hate to think what that is in real dollars today)…and many of us went through multiple incarnations. We set it up, had it take desk space, power, and mind-share (how do I replay that message?). Then there was network based VM, and the game changed.,
Stage 2: The “almost cheap” voice-mail: So somewhere in the 80s (maybe late 70s), the phone companies started offering phone based voice-mail. Voice-mail in a cloud. And everyone flocked to that. Ostensibly cheaper – it didn’t require an initial cash outlay, although over the life of the service it was way more expensive than Stage 1 DIY. But, being creatures of habit and installment plans, why go back? Out of sight, out of mind, a bit easier to use, no maintenance, no desk space, no fuss, no muss. Did we worry about security? rarely. Everyone trusted Ma Bell’s children, and even after caller id hacks got strangers into celebrity mailboxes, no one blinked an eye. Some of that applies today with commercial cloud usage… cheapness is just a mirage, a trade-off…security a dream. But most consumers are willing to accept the shortcomings. And those that don’t just had a little less desk space available.
Stage 3: The ubiquitous, duplicitous voice mail:by the 90s, and 00s cell phones were in vogue, and – guess what – whether you liked it or not you got an answering machine thrown in – either through an explicit charge, or as a hidden charge. Voice-mail in a cloud, on steroids. Try to get a cell without a voice-mail account – the best you can do is turn it off – but it’s still there and you pay for it. Now everyone has multiple voice-mails, using multiple protocols, an inability to integrate across systems (or at least an unwillingness by the carriers), and a fair amount of frustration by consumers. Ubiquity not only has its costs, but also its confusion – and we live with that today. Except for the ones without cell phones, and with the box on their desk. And for cell phones – driven by mobility and anytime/anywhere access – there is no desk.
Which brings us to stage 4: A world were some people (at least for this commodity example) still have the DIY option running (although they are few and far between since land lines are disappearing faster than the Ross ice shelf)… and “cloud” solutions are on the brink of bringing some level of sanity to the confusion of ubiquity – Google Voice is a prime example. An answering machine of choice that can handle all the different ways of reaching you, and has one set of features – accessible on-line, integrated with email, messaging (did anyone say Unified Communications?). This is a world where services are even more distinctly defined, unbundled, and offered over the internet. The "voice-mail as a service" stage.
This, my friends, is a stage still in the making for most compute services today; It’s a stage that encourages entrepreneurial solutions, and solves problems in ways that weren’t capable just a few year before. Answering machines have shown us the way
Mike Rollings– Research Director for our Enterprise Architecture service, makes the case for an even more advanced stage of “voice-mail as a service” leading to a single voice-mail service for users that works seamlessly with other phone functions. I suppose one can make the argument that things like Google voice, rather than being viewed as just a pure “integration engine” (not unlike the old screen scraper metaphor for desktop integration) is a step toward that.
So what do YOU think? Do these stages begin to form a model for computing maturity in an era of clouds? Does the history-of-the-answering-machine metaphor hold true for most commodity services, and maybe even some non-commodity ones?