Big Daddy Don Garlits & the Cloud: Capable Vs. Functional

I know what you’re thinking, yet another car analogy, but bear with me, I think you’ll like it…eventually ;)

When I was a kid, like around 11 or 12, during the summers I would ride my bike into town to go to the municipal pool to hang out with my friends and basically have fun.  On my way to the pool I used to ride past a garage and body shop in my neighborhood and sometimes I would stop to look around.  One day I found it had a back lot where there were a bunch of cars parked amongst the weeds, broken concrete and gravel.  I don’t remember thinking about why the cars were there except that maybe they were in various states of repair (or disrepair as the case may be…lots of rust, not a lot of intact glass) or that they were just forgotten about and left to slowly disintegrate and return to nature.

Back then I do remember that I was seriously on the path toward full-on car craziness as I was just starting to dream of driving, feeling the wind in my hair (yeah, it was that long ago) and enjoying the freedom I imagined it would bring.  I was a huge fan of “Car Toons” which was sort of the Mad Magazine of cars and basically lusted after hot rods, dragsters and sports cars.  I was endlessly scribbling car doodles on my note books and in the margins of text books.  I thought of myself as a cross between Big Daddy Don Garlits and a sports car designer.  In fact, I used to spend hours drawing what I thought was the perfect car and would give the design to my dad who, back then, was a car designer for the Ford Motor Company. I have no idea what ever happened to those designs but I imagine they were conspicuously put in his briefcase at home and dumped in the trash at work.

Anyway, among the various shells of once bright and gleaming cars in that back lot, almost hidden amongst the weeds was a candy-apple red Ford Pantera or, more accurately; the De Tomaso Pantera that was designed and built in Italy and powered by a Ford engine (and eventually imported to the US to be sold in Lincoln/Mercury dealerships).  The car sat on half-filled radial tires (relatively new to the US) and still sparkled as if it just came off the showroom floor…haa ha, or so my feverish car-obsessed, pre-teen brain thought it sparkled.  It was sleek, low to the ground and looked as if it were going 100 miles an hour just sitting there.  It was a supercar before the word was coined and I was deeply, madly and completely in love with it.

Of course, at 12 years old the only thing I could really do was dream of driving the car—I was, after all, 4 years away from even having a driver’s license—but I distinctly remember how vivid those daydreams were, how utterly real and “possible” they seemed.

Fast forward to now and to the customers I consult with about their desires for a building a cloud infrastructure within their environments. They are doing exactly what I did almost 40 years ago in that back lot; they are looking at shiny new ways of doing things: being faster, highly flexible, elastic, personal, serviceable—more innovative—and fully imagining how it would feel to run those amazingly effective infrastructures…but…like I was back then, they are just as unable to operate those new things as I was unable to drive that Pantera.  Even if I could afford to buy it, I had no knowledge or experience that would enable me to effectively (or legally) drive it.  That is the difference between being Functional and Capable.

The Pantera was certainly capable but *in relation to me* was not anywhere near being functional.  The essence and nature of the car never changed but my ability to effectively harness its power and direct it toward some beneficial outcome was zero; therefore the car was non-functional as far as I was concerned.  The same way a cloud infrastructure—fully built out with well architected components, tested and running—would be non-functional to customers who did not know how to operate that type of infrastructure.

In short; cloud capable versus cloud functional.

The way that a cloud infrastructure should be operated is based on the idea of delivering IT services and not the traditional ideas of servers and storage and networks being individually built, configured and connected by people doing physical stuff.  Cloud infrastructures are automated and orchestrated to deliver specific functionality aggregated into specific services; fast and efficiently, without the need for people doing “stuff.”  In fact, people doing stuff is too slow and just gets in the way and if you don’t change the operations of the systems to reflect that, you end up with a very capable yet non-functional system.

Literally, you have to transform how you operate the system—from a traditional to a cloud infrastructure—in lock-step with how that system is materially changed or it will be very much the same sort of difference between me riding my bicycle into town at 12 years old and me driving a candy-apple red Pantera.  It’s just dreaming until the required knowledge and experience is obtained…none of which is easy or quick…but tell that to a 12 year old lost in his imagination staring at sparkling red freedom and adventure…