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With Abundant Good Cheer

As we move from a time of IT as a scarce and controlled resource to a time where IT is seen as an abundant and easily available resource; we need to consider what this means to us in Enterprise IT. Is abundance a good thing and a power for good or does it bring with it issues? 

Lets look at a couple of quotes from Clay Shirky's book 'Cognitive Surplus'

'Abundance breaks many more things than scarcity does. Society knows how to react to scarcity' 

'Abundance is different: its advent means we can start treating previously valuable things as if they were cheap enough to waste, which is to say cheap enough to experiment with.' 

Now Shirky is talking about publishing, information and how we consume/create media but some of his thinking strikes a surprising amount of resonance as to what is going on in Enterprise IT today and how it is beginning to change.

In Enterprise IT, we know how to control access to resource, how to ration resource in such a way to ensure that we always have some resource saved and preserved for a rainy-day. But as we move to a world where resource is abundant; our models have to change. 

Perhaps we need to move from beyond the 'gate-keeping' mode of operation that many of us are used to where our job was only to let people into our environment if they met our very stringent criteria to a mode of operation more akin to one of the accommodating host where everyone is welcome as long as they do not impact any of the other guests.  

Enterprise IT is probably not yet at the stage where it can be considered to be cheap enough to waste but perhaps we are on the cusp of this? Or perhaps we need to be considering what needs to be done to get to that position. The Amazon EC2s of this world certainly allow experimentation at a very low cost financially. And arguably more important, the time to implement is much quicker. 

This may drive a culture of 'try often, fail a lot, succeed rarely'; as in the world of publishing, the average level of application quality may well be driven down and it will be important that we build infrastructures which can cope with failures. Badly behaved applications will need to be managed, we will need ways of spotting a badly behaved application quickly and like the good host, gently encourage it to behave better with the eventual sanction of kicking it out. 

Virtualisation can help to ensure that applications behave within limits but applications can fail in many ways and we will need to ensure that we have the tools to tidy up afterwards. This will limit the waste but allow our users to experiment and try things; yet again, like a good host, we tidy up after our guests and recycle or re-use what we can.

The IT Infrastructure Manager as 'Mein Host'…no more the grumpy chap in the corner but the genial host ensuring that the party runs smoothly yet with a swing. 


  1. Chuck Hollis says:

    When we fully embrace the “service” part of “IT as a service”, we’ll definitely see this sort of shift.
    I’m already seeing it in some of the people I talk to.

  2. Eric Slack says:

    Excellent point, abundance should foster experimentation and what’s considered ‘waste’ in IT can be a little counterintuitive. Part of what Shirky’s saying (I haven’t read the book) could be that scarcity promotes innovation and abundance can promote laziness and inefficiency. I’m reminded of the cold war stories of how good the programmers in the Soviet block got precisely because of the scarcity (hardware) they lived with. I think it comes down to management – as you mention – whether it’s IT managing resources amongst its internal ‘guests’ or Microsoft managing its developers to wring out the bloatware.

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