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Eric Wright

Coffee Drinker's Guide to Commodity Technology

You've undoubtedly seen headlines and articles all over which talk about the commoditization of technology. This trend is real, and is having a wide-reaching effect on how vendors are doing business, and designing solutions as they move into the next generation of virtualization of applications and technology resources. Does this mean that everything will become a cheaper commodity? Well, yes and no.

1/2 Caf Latte with 5 pumps of sugar-free vanilla, please

If that title sounds funny and familiar, you've inevitably been in line at a Starbucks. The wild, custom orders sound hilarious until 2 years of ordering later you develop your own exotic mix that you find to be just to your taste.

The reason I bring this up is that this is an ideal example of how technology is going. There are all of these pundits (myself included) highlighting how commoditization of hardware is being enabled by the software layer, and more open source alternatives are available all the time to provide a new way to run your data center. If this is the case, won't it put an end to high-dollar virtualization and hardware options? No. Will it cut into the market share? Yes. It's already starting.

Coffee Drinkers and Technology Consumers Compared

We have the Starbucks drinker. An enterprise customer who doesn't mind paying a little bit more, but they know that they have the comfort of getting precisely what they need, and it also ensures that they can get it without difficulty. It has long lines, and takes longer than some places, and isn't the "best" coffee in the world, but it's slightly upscale to a traditional drip coffee. There are also lots of places to get it. As an enterprise customer, you want to ensure that you can get what you need, from wherever you are. Even if you know that you pay a little more, and you could probably get a better coffee for the same price, you don't mind how things are now.

If you know Blue Bottle, you know about the next type of coffee consumer. Blue Bottle and other such unique small-scale chains offer a specific experience, and have a specific customer. These are coffee lovers who enjoy a fine brew, made to order, and with a fair trade, organic treat as a side to your coffee. They read about where the beans are grown, how much percentage of shade they experience during the growing period, but they also don't mind paying for it. I imagine this as the niche technology customer. They like the finer experience, and don't mind that they can only get it in a specific area. They may be diving in with a startup vendor to run their data center platform, and embracing the uniqueness and potential of what could come.

Then we have our Tim Hortons (Canda) or Dunkin' Donuts (US) drinker. This is the SMB customer who likes consistency, doesn't want to pay too much for it, and they also like that it's just what they need and they can get it easily pretty much anywhere they go. If you don't want to be bothered with making your own coffee, this is the way to go. It's low-cost, low-maintenance, and it does what you need it to do. This is a classic illustration of small business technology. It may not be to the taste of large-scale customers, but it keeps the wheels turning on a small business and as they grow, they may branch out and try more higher-end brews.

coffee nerdNext we have the French Press and Aeropress person. They like to create their own drink in a specific way. They measure things precisely, and have an almost ritualistic way to create the ideal coffee for themselves. They know about the temperature, and brewing times down to the degree and to the second respectively. They experiment with different beans and filters and build their perfect drink by building the perfect process. This is the OpenStack lover in all of us. I'm this person. We know that it takes more work, but it is something that we craft ourselves and are extra proud of it, even if the enjoyment requires a little more effort.

Every Coffee Sells. Period.

These are simple illustrations. Each customer of each coffee brand will tell you why theirs is the best. Each coffee vendor will tell you why they are the best. Each of these customers and vendors is right, for their own demographic.

What I'm trying to show with this is that even as hardware becomes commoditized, there will always be someone who will sign with a "lock-in" vendor, on traditional hardware, or with a license agreement for their data center virtualization tools, despite having alternatives.

Commoditization of the hardware and the hypervisor is creating a new market for consumers which presents options that weren't there before.  Vendors who produce traditional offerings are also seeing the writing on the wall and jumping in with open source products and leveraging the market shift to also embrace commoditization in a lot of ways.

The truth of the matter is that not everyone wants to brew their own coffee. The truth also holds that more and more consumers are moving that way. Who wins with choice? Everyone.

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