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The world is ready for the consumer-grade enterprise

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In the last three decades, we’ve seen a shift in enterprise information technology, from mainframes that automated our financial information, to the client-server and web-based world that aimed to replace most paper-based processes with “systems” like CRM, ERP, e-commerce and email. And now, in the cloud era, we find ourselves on the brink of another transformative shift. This one is driven by the explosion of data and the need for traditional enterprises to find new business value through new business models and building better customer experiences.

A key question becomes how this shift will become a reality and where we will look for a blueprint to begin. I think the answer, or at least the opportunity to see further, comes from “standing on the shoulders of giants.” And in this case specifically, I’m talking about the consumer internet giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

These companies have created significant new business value and blazed new trails in developing ways to manage and extract meaning from massive amounts of data. As a result, they’re able to deliver meaningful products, features, and experiences rapidly to their customers — essentially,giving customers what they want, when they want it and where they want it. Wouldn’t it be nice for traditional enterprises to have the same capabilities?

The traditional enterprise must learn from internet technology

Powered by new data fabrics with custom-built infrastructure, these consumer internet companies interact and serve their customers in the context of who their customers are, where they are and what they are doing in the moment. They are building, deploying and scaling at an unprecedented pace. They are storing, managing and delivering value from large data sets, and they knit all of this together on one unified platform that supports their businesses.

Structure 2011: Paul Maritz – CEO, VMware
Paul Maritz at Structure 2011
(c) Pinar Ozger

Now add to this mix the emergence of the “internet of things,” the fact that telemetry will become pervasive in coming years. Everything from a fridge to a jet engine will be dialing home in the future, constantly reporting its state. This will drive a new avalanche of data that will arrive in huge quantities and will need to be ingested and reacted to in real time.

Successful enterprises must become “consumer-grade” in order to win

Enterprise companies will need ways to store and analyze massive amounts of data cost-effectively, ingest huge numbers of events in real time, reason over the data and events, and react in real time. Teams will need to be able to develop rapidly the new solutions that exploit these underlying capabilities. The need for these capabilities can be seen across a wider set of industries — from industrial control to telecommunications to retail, and even to modern agriculture.

Addressing these opportunities will require new underpinnings; a new platform, if you like. At the core of this platform, which needs to be cloud-independent to prevent lock-in, will be new approaches to handling big and fast (real-time) data. And history teaches us that when the underlying data fabrics change, a lot else in the IT industry changes, as well.

“Carrier-grade” or “industrial-grade” — and yes, of course, “enterprise-grade” — once represented best-in-class products and technology while “consumer-grade” was associated with lightweight technology not fit for a professional, high-performance environment. Well, things are changing; the former lightweight is the new heavyweight. Consumer-grade will become the new benchmark.

Paul Maritz is the former CEO of VMware, current chief strategy officer of EMC and also holds a leadership position with the Pivotal Initiative. He will be part of a fireside chat with GigaOM’s Om Malik on Wednesday, March 20, at Structure: Data in New York.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Oleksiy Mark.

12 Responses to “The world is ready for the consumer-grade enterprise”

  1. Technology unfortunately brings along the possibilities that in this way or another mean more and more ways of controlling others. One day we may wake up only to find out there’s nothing we can do to escape the grip of someone pulling strings and making us do whatever pleases him!

  2. Bill – what in the world are you talking about? ASPs are the entire point of cloud. Giving IT the ability to provide platform, infrastructure and software as a service is the evolution of the ASP model. So far from a peak in a cyclical process that will turn back around, it’s a growth of the concept to broader domains.

  3. mark hahn

    bah. the vultures are circling IoT hoping to make a generous meal of consumer data in the cloud. is that really what consumers want, though?

    I want my iThings reporting only to my a repository/response center that I control. whether it’s a widget in my house or not doesn’t matter: I should own all the data and decide who, if anyone, sees it. I may choose to rent a cloud service from someone who does a particularly good job of maintaining my privacy while providing me with insight about when to turn down the furnace or when to water my plants or whether someone is breaking into my house.

    IoT is an opportunity, but not for enterprise-oriented monsters like VMware, EMC or (worse) Cisco.

  4. Weining Wang

    Just a FYI,

    Bloomberg reported Amazon today signed a $600m contract with CIA on Cloud Computing.
    It is clear that Amazon is getting the enterprise spaces in a way than what we thought.

    “Would you trust a book seller with your infrastructure?”

    I think Amazon already had a answer for this question.

  5. Bill Witten

    I have a long memory. I remember when folks were singing the praises of the ASP model. The cloud is no different. We will see everything seemingly move to the “cloud” and then it will decentralize again. It is a repeating pattern in computing. I won’t waste anyone’s time with a trip down memory lane but, just like the rise of China mimics the rise of Japan, so too does the rise of the “cloud” mimic the rise of the ASPs. Remember when Japan was going to “own US” and on-premises deployments were “on their way out” as the ASPs took the stage?

    That said, I think Paul makes some interesting points here. If there is a benefit that outweighs the cost of making everyday objects “smart” and the truly intimidating amount of personal data smart things generate isn’t misused in the next 10 years, thus causing a serious backlash, then I believe that an average enterprise might need to digest the amounts of data he references above.

    I think it is of far greater liklihood that a high-profile “cloud” provider takes a big security hit in the next several years and the enterprise and medium businesses will jerk their data out of the cloud (again). Microsoft and other folks going full speed “integrating the cloud” into their products better hope that the breach isn’t too bad or it may just cause a backlash so strong that they lose another chunk of their remaining toehold in computing.

    Every time I hear about smart refrigerators, toasters, microwaves, washing machines and smart cabinetry I think of the folks that believed that the browser would be the only application needed on a computer in 10 years (back in 1992). The way forward is never so clear. I mean, really, we’re still talking about technology and the dirty places where technology meets users, right? It is good to look ahead and have a vision but it’s necessary to temper the sweetness of theory with the bitterness of reality, lest one wind up with a sugar headache.

    What enterprises really need is to continue making their decisions based upon the hard realities of providing rich IT services to widely-dispersed user populations using disparate plaforms with a plethora of fast-changing form factors amid ever-increasing demands in regards to efficiency and richness of experience. Hmm. Maybe the browser-centric world will come-about after all. Now if only we had a unified store to take things offline……

  6. Ben Kepes

    Excellent post from Paul who unquestionably understands the major shifts we’re seeing. The post is all the more interesting since Pivotal, the initiative he’s heading up, is owned by VMware and EMC, two companies whose executives break out in cold sweats when anyone even mentions anything around “consumer grade”. Maritz was, of course, formerly the CEO of VMware.

    Witness VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s recent comments about Amazon Web Services (“would you trust a book seller with your infrastructure?”) as a taste of what these companies really think about consumer versus enterprise.

    The only question now is whether his corporate overlords give Maritz the freedom to do the right things with Pivotal – time will tell…..

  7. Henk Perdok

    Interesting perspective but the consumer grade company sounds like the company is in the lead of the relation/ connection with the consumer. I see tendencies that require a fundamental shift away from the perspective that companies address consumers. Google, Facebook , amazon know more and more who you are, what you do, what you “perceived” interests are etc…. but it puts them in control over you as consumer. This invasiveness needs to reverse in the sense that the consumer becomes more in control of who he wants him to contact or not. THe individual wants to regain control and share very selectively his (internet) identity. Not massive loads of data are of its interest but defining an individual experience or a group/ community experience based on the action he/she wants to execute (search, select, define, choose, see, hear, get proposed,offer,…). A kind of wall/ hub where the big data owners and the consumers are anonymously interacting based on non fixed roles, but roles which get determined during the process. I.e. If I want a design chair, I’ll start a process to determine; do I want to buy or do I want to design myself; in the latter case I’ll search for a tool to design, later I draft a design, share it with a ad hoc community of consumers looking for a design chair, we determine the grades of freedom required in the design and bring it to the market of chair producers, here we select, negotiate, adjust etc (still individually anonymously; but as group/ community determinated (# of participants; units needed; when needed; currencies;… etc..) till the deal is accepted by the community and the producers and consum-designers get exposed. No fixed roles – dynamic interactions based on the needs of the moment – more investigation behaviour and new experiences supported by people who at that time feel the same need. Obviously not all of these endavours will be successful, but it opens peoples curiousity and provide the potential of unlimited experiences linking information tools to the real world. THis missing screen/ wall/ hub which must act as a kind of behaviour lab for individuals or communities is not yet existent but would cover a need of experimenting without opening up to the big companies and providing them anew with control.

  8. This is an excellent article on where the industry is going. There is no shortage of high tech CEO but only very few have a clear vision of the future. I would Paul in the category of Bill and Steve. This change is very large and winners and losers of next generations would be decided by leaders who have the vision and the ability to execute. I would call this as a must read for all CTO and CIO.

  9. Latif N

    When Paul speaks….the world listens. Great piece PaulMa. I agree on the need for ‘Consumer-grade’ platform based on the data tsunami hitting us. However I also feel that major consideration needs to be factored in at the user experience level. Today’s business users are so much more sophisticated than the users of yesterday. The cursory focus on enterprise user experience as an after thought needs to make way for a very demanding business user that has tasted the simplicity and power of today’s consumer applications. All the best Paul!

  10. Chris van Loben Sels

    Great piece, Paul. It will be very interesting to see where this vision takes the Pivotal Initiative — and where things shake out on where new platforms end and new applications begin (an age old question).

    All the major vendors are beginning to coalesce around various versions of “Consumer-grade platform” and “Customer Experience” applications:

    — IBM’s Smarter Planet has had the Interent of Things as a theme for a while now, but it has sounded as much about supply chain analytics than consumer-grade analytics and optimization.

    — Interestingly, Benioff has now started citing the Internet of Things as a catalyst for Salesforce’s ‘Customer Company’ vision (

    — Oracle has been out there with the Customer Experience — and arguably has one of the strongest portfolios for cloud-based customer service and marketing — but consumer analytics seems stuck in the database world and internet-of-things in the embedded world.

    — Adobe had a Customer Experience Management vision, but has pivoted to “Marketing Cloud” positioning (disclosure, my old job was on the customer experience management strategy team there).

    The other exciting catalyst is the combination of cloud-based APIs and App Stores. It allows us to write and sell consumer-grade enterprise applications directly to enterprise users. Since we sell directly to users, we can solve user’s day-to-day problems (as opposed to selling governance and reporting applications to managers).

    We’ve built a great, consumer-grade experience for salespeople at Check it out!