Monday, March 16, 2015

Paleontology

Last weekend, I spent a day with my family at the Maryland Science Center. If you've never been, and you've got plans to visit Baltimore, do yourself a favor and drop by. You won't be disappointed, especially if you're traveling with your kids. Hmmm, that sentence sounds like it should be at the end of this post. But I'm lazy, so I'm leaving it here.

Like many science-themed museums, the Maryland Science Center features exhibits on specific fields of scientific study: astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, and my favorite: paleontology.

The king is dead.
Etymologically, paleontology means, quite literally, the study of old and ancient things. So a stroll through an exhibit of the fossilized remains of dinosaurs is a stroll through the past. Much like gazing at the stars in your backyard is viewing a universe that hasn't existed for millions of years; it's the kind of thing that makes you dizzy to think about, and can understandably lead to feelings of insignificance. It's borderline ungrokable.

In a quiet moment, while my wife and boys examined a cast of fossilized dinosaur eggs, I walked over to a Tyrannosaurs Rex skull mounted on a metal frame. It's an image I've seen countless times; the mineralized cranial structure of what was once that planet's greatest predator. But this time, instead of looking upon this fossil with awe, I felt sadness. Because for all of its glory, this particular beast (or to be more accurate, a cast of a particular beast) ended up on display in a bright and spacious room in Baltimore, Maryland.

Today, we use the word dinosaur in a very different way, especially in the technology world. It's used pejoratively, a scoffed utterance to indicate the erstwhile utility of a technology, or worse yet, a human being. A dinosaur is a luddite, a troglodyte, a philistine, a provider and consumer of obsoleted solutions for obsoleted problems. A dinosaur is incapable, or perhaps disinterested, in evolving. In other words, a dinosaur is a dysfunctional anachronism of the first order. An organizational obstruction in need of percussive sublimation.

What Killed the Dinosaurs?

When used in IT (and other industries that undergo near-constant change), the word dinosaur implies a failure to adapt to change over time. We observe the dinosaur as it writes a batch file to automate an administrative task, or as it insists that more vCPUs means a faster virtual machine. The dinosaur's thought processes are mired in late 1990's capabilities; we conclude that this stagnation is what will lead to the dinosaurs extinction. But what killed the true dinosaurs was not a failure to evolve, it was a failure to sustain disruption. 

Cloud as Extinction Event

Make no mistake: cloud computing disrupts traditional hosting environments. For many, the migration to the cloud is perceived as an unwelcome change. The dinosaurs emerge to dig in to traditional models. But just as a successive failure of the food chain doomed the Earth's largest predator, an accelerating exodus of customers migrating to the cloud will doom IT's antiquated business models. The extinction burst will manifest as a last ditch attempt to save on-premises1 hosting. It's an understandable reaction to a realization that migration to the cloud is fait accompli.

Modern Dinosaurs

I've encountered many IT veterans over the years who would certainly meet the snarky criteria of a technology dinosaur. But I'm letting that term go. Today's dinosaurs were yesterday's luminaries; we'll all be dinosaurs one day. And maybe the next time you walk past corridors of quiet cubicles populated with sexagenary sysadmins, you'll bite your tongue before dismissively declaring, "he's a dinosaur."

Such declarations are unnecessarily cruel and inhumane to both the subject and the predicate.

To be continued...

1. You're welcome, pedants.