Go Beyond The Stack And Think Like A Startup

In IT, we talk about the stack – a lot. Whether it’s the LAMP stack, the Windows stack, the technology stack; we have the tendency to look for things in a neat and orderly stack that comprises distinct, specific layers.

The problem is – that model is no longer applicable.

I thought a lot about the “stack” recently as I was preparing to speak last week at New Relic’s FutureStack event in San Francisco and this week’s Dublin Web Summit. I determined that if you’re focusing on the stack, you’re behind. Startups don’t think about the stack the way traditional, enterprise IT does. Enterprises would benefit from thinking and acting more like startups.

Let’s take a look back: the prehistoric era gave us mainframes and punch cards, which gave way to the middle ages of green screens and token rings. Then UNIX was born with the idea of open systems – I call that the age of enlightenment. The client server industrial revolution delivered JAVA, .NET and Dell – we had computers on our desks. And then in the 1990s and 2000s we got the web, the LAMP stack, Linux and open source. Then we got comfortable. Enterprises loved to standardize on a particular stack and enforce use of certain languages. This gave them stability.

But wait! Then came the cloud. The cloud era was new. It was fresh. There was a newfound agility. The speed to market was unrivaled. We could sit back, take a deep breath and relax – the future had arrived.

Or so we thought.

The cloud paved the way for more change. Mobility took hold. Smart, connected devices became the rage. And wearable technology was more than just geek chic. And while this is all amazing and futuristic, the best is still yet to come.

The next big leap in technology is in some developer’s mind somewhere. That developer is likely working for a company that only read about the LAMP stack in text books and blog posts, if at all.

IT is now in the hands of the people. It’s in the hands of the innovators. IT is owned by the developers and architects who make the world work. Think about the number of lines of code a car requires. Are car manufacturers IT companies? Today, IT is everything and everything is IT. It’s a world where everything is connected. There’s a new way of thinking, a new way of acting and a new philosophy. There is no stack, so to speak – certainly not in the traditional sense of a nice, clean standard that IT can enforce. The new “stack” comprises people, their organization, innovation, tools, APIs, languages, hosting providers – everything. It’s no longer a single department that rules the business.

Startups were built on that philosophy. It’s baked into their DNA. And, in many cases, they’re ahead of the curve. For enterprises, this is a conundrum because it forces them to change in ways they haven’t considered.

Startups are using tools like Docker, Chef, Puppet and New Relic, which are having a tremendous impact. They’re using MongoDB and Redis. They’re using APIs and SDKs. They’re using continuous integration, continuous delivery. And Big Data — don’t forget Big Data. These burgeoning technologies have turned the idea of a traditional stack on its ear. Enterprises need to try them. Use these tools. Test these technologies and learn how they’ll impact their businesses. You can’t know what’s possible unless you try.

That’s what makes the cloud model so powerful – you can adapt, you can be agile. For enterprises, that may require changing your mindset. But you have to keep an open mind. You have to be ready for change. It’s a shift we’ve undergone ourselves at Rackspace. We’re using continuous integration and running cloud on cloud. We’re using our expertise to help our customers transform. We used to be seen as sys admins or DBAs – with a single person owning our customers’ stacks. Then we realized: one individual can’t own the stack.

Now we have DevOps engineers, developers and architects available or our customers. We have experts in MongoDB at scale, Hortonworks, Chef and more. We help you put it together and we do it in a hybrid environment that is the best fit for your workloads. And that hybrid cloud is open – there’s no lock-in. The downfall of a pre-determined stack is that you can’t get out of it – or at least it takes a lot of heavy lifting to get out of it. You’re locked in.

Today you have choice. And in the future you’ll have more choice. You have to embrace that choice. You have to embrace these massive shifts. It’s time we all let go of our love of the stack. If you don’t, you’re losing ground.

Let’s all move beyond the stack. When it comes to IT, the future is a checkpoint, not a destination.

See John present on the Cloud Stage at Dublin’s Web Summit at 9:20 a.m. local time Wednesday, October 30, and as part of a panel discussion on the future of the cloud at 2:15 p.m., also on Wednesday, October 30.

John Engates joined Rackspace in August 2000, just a year after the company was founded, as Vice President of Operations, managing the datacenter operations and customer-service teams. Two years later, when Rackspace decided to add new services for larger enterprise customers, John created and helped develop the Intensive Hosting business unit. Most recently, John has played an active role in the evolution and evangelism of Rackspace's cloud-computing strategy and cloud products. John meets frequently with customers to hear about their needs and concerns, and to discuss Rackspace's vision for the future of cloud computing. John currently serves as Chief Technology Officer. John is also an internationally recognized cloud computing expert and a sought-after speaker at technology conferences, including CA World, the Goldman Sachs Techtonics Conference and Cloud Expo. He speaks on the future of cloud computing, enterprise cloud adoption, data center efficiency, green data center best practices, and more. Prior to joining Rackspace, John was a founder and General Manager at Internet Direct, one of the original Internet service providers in Texas. John is a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and holds a B.B.A. in Accounting.


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