Some time toward the end of the year, I start considering the volume of change we, as practitioners, have been under for … literally years, even decades. And I start to try and think of ways to keep you all from drowning in change. And then I write something that I hope helps you all focus on good change, and keeps moving your environment forward.
This year I’m going to say “consider the reasons for the change.” I will attempt to find examples that do not require mentioning a specific product or vendor, so apologies if these read a bit convoluted as I attempt to illustrate this point without castigating.
There are three basic reasons that a market or marketers want you to consider a change. There are, of course, variants and cases where it is a bit of this reason and a bit of that, but most demands that we change what/how we are doing things can be lumped into “mostly one of these”. They are:
- A great idea that is really a game-changer for some subset of the market.
- A shifting of who is in control.
- Locking customers in or expanding revenue.
All of these happen at the vendor/project level, and all of them happen at the market level.
Number one is best illustrated by any of the waves of server virtualization that have come through. From virtual machines to containers, each has solved problems and changed the way we do business. Notably, I’m only talking about server virtualization efforts here. Most of the other virtualization attempts have really not fit the “great idea that is a game-changer” category, though some have limited usefulness. Personally, I think the new version of storage virtualization will be in the game-changer category but am waiting to see it in use.
Number two is one to watch out for and is most obvious when big-name OSS projects are forked. It is rarely about the technology being implemented (after all, a fork is a copy of the original; at first it is not at all about the technology), but rather about who is calling the shots. There is a bit of this in every public cloud vendor implementing their own version of container management (though this example is more about lock-in, in my opinion).
Number three is multi-pronged. If your vendor went from selling you hardware or software to selling you a service, they want that recurring revenue and they want you to be linked into that service so deep that you can’t walk away. The much-reviled 1990s mantra of “embrace and extend” is the poster child for this kind of change. There might be a value-add in there somewhere and sometimes the added functionality makes the move a no-brainer. Often, though, the change is simply to the vendor’s advantage, not their customers. As most major Linux distros have shown, open source is not immune to this one, as most of them are making OSS users the de facto beta testers for their paid offerings.
None of this is to say that the change in front of you is bad—even if the reason it was originally spawned is bad. It is reminding you that, after a constant stream of change, we’re more open to it than maybe we should be and you should remember the only important thing about new changes—do they make our environment more secure, faster, more agile? Everything else is just noise. Yes, all the cool kids are switching to coding in [insert flavor du jour], but does it offer your organization anything new? Yes, it seems everyone is using [insert current CI/CD flavor], but does it address the weaknesses of your current toolchain?
You all are nailing it. Keep doing it. And don’t be afraid of change, but make sure you know if that new OSS database system is really new, or just a lot of installing the same code under a slightly different name. Because someone didn’t like the new owners.