Everything I Know about Cloud Computing I Learned on the Football Field

I quit playing football on a local semi-pro football team when my ‘real’ career and my age began to get in the way.  I’ll never tell you which was the most prominent reason.

While my friends can quote NFL and college football statistics from years ago, and never miss a game on a Sunday, I enjoyed playing the game far more than watching it.  There is an art to football if you pay close enough attention, but only if you’re on the field.

While people make sports analogies far too often, the comparison of the emerging cloud computing market to my experiences on the football field are appropriate.  There are obvious parallels that I find, and interesting realities that are worth discussing.  Here are a few:

“Agility is more effective than size.” 

Looking across the line of scrimmage at a 350-pound opponent is a bit intimidating.  However, if that guy can’t move quickly enough, you simply make your way around him on each and every play.

The cloud computing market is much the same.  Larger players such as IBM, HP, and Oracle can’t shift as fast as smaller, more nimble and agile players, so it seems they can’t capture the leading edge of the emerging market.

Relative upstarts such as Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, Salesforce.com, Engine Yard, Red Hat, and many others have beat them to the quarterback.  They prove to be more innovative, and drive into emerging portions of the cloud computing market faster than the established technology players.  In the near future, they will probably leave the big players farther behind.

“Chinstraps buckled, mouthpieces in.“

Leveraging your equipment to protect yourself can reduce the likelihood of an injury.  Likewise, those who think through the security and governance issues that cloud computing brings are likely to be more successful than those who don’t.  There seems to be some small movements in thinking through the security issues around the use of public clouds.  However, thinking is not enough to keep up with the increasing risks around the use of cloud computing.  Money needs to be spent, approaches created, and technology implemented.

I suspect we’ll see a few major breaches this year or the next.  The shame of this is that these setbacks are completely avoidable with some additional advanced planning and the use of emerging security technology, such as those based upon identity management.

“Ability beats strategy in each and every game.” 

While football is a game of strategy, if you don’t have the talent to execute, you’ll lose every time.  Indeed, I’ve played on teams with poorly defined plays, and no thought of a strategy to match the opposing team.  However, the dominating athletic abilities of the players overcame any lack of strategy.  While the other team came much better prepared, they still lost.

This seems to be the case in the cloud computing market where talent-rich cloud computing players, such as Amazon Web Services, have dominated the market and will continue to do so.  What drives their competition even crazier is that they seem to be dominating the market without much of a forward-thinking strategy.

The core difference is that Amazon focused on creating the best service that they could create, and thus smaller, budget-hungry IT shops beat a path to their door.  The strategy of not having a strategy, but focusing on the quality and depth of the cloud computing service, seems to be much better way to grab market share.

Of course, you can’t create great technology without great talent.  The smart cloud computing technology providers will spurge on both.

“The game can change quickly.”

Football games can make quick shifts.  You can be up 20+ points at the half, and still lose the game after making a few critical mistakes in the second half.

I suspect the cloud computing market will exhibit the same behavior.  Many players will initially lead the game, and dominate the market in the early days.  Those that end up winning the game could be a very different group of players.

Further penetration into the larger enterprises could also change the game.  Most of cloud computing growth exists within the small business space these days, with the usual suspects dominating the marketplace.  In 2013 and 2014, the market will likely shift to larger enterprises, and that is where the real money will be made.

Thus, those cloud computing technology providers that have an existing presence within those larger enterprises, such as HP and IBM, and know how to sell to those larger enterprises, could get the upper hand and change the game inthe next few  years.  Or, should I say, the second half.

The world of cloud computing is, indeed, a game, with billions of dollars at stake.  While many of the issues and attributes are new, many of the patterns are very familiar within other technology trends we’ve experienced in the past.  If we focus on the continued understanding and innovation in this space, we’ll find that the most deserving players are in the playoffs.  Last sports analogy, I promise.