Experiencing Silicon Valley overload? For help, look inward

Enterprises face a huge challenge in evaluating, let alone deploying, an unprecedented volume of new tech from the Valley. Fortunately, the key is probably right in front of you

If you've seen the HBO series "Silicon Valley," you know it's crudely funny, with all the expected clichés. Brogrammers rule, every startup is "changing the world," and VCs firmly believe in their own omniscience. It's broad comedy with more than a grain of truth to it.

Surprisingly, the show's writers even seem to get that despite all the excesses, technology of real value is being created. I would add that far more good stuff is coming out of the Valley now, particularly in the form of enterprise tech, than emerged during the dot-com boom. But here's the problem: Inside the Valley bubble, there's a whirlwind of new tech; outside, new tech adoption by real enterprise customers seems to be taking nearly as long as it always has.

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As the saying goes, "the reason God was able to create the world in seven days is that he didn't have to worry about the installed base." The cost and risk of migrating from old client-server systems to NoSQL databases, private clouds, SDN, and the like remains high.

Don't blame enterprise CIOs. From what I can tell, they seem quite well versed in the latest developments. At a recent panel, I saw a CIO talk excitedly about the biggest trend in enterprise tech: The move from expensive, proprietary, scale-up systems to open source, commodity, scale-out systems. He even used a popular analogy you may have heard, which is that instead of treating servers as "pets" that need constant care, commodity hardware and distributed architecture enables you to treat servers like "cows." That is, it's not a tragedy if one dies, and replacing it without a second thought is just part of the business.

That same CIO then went on to say proudly that his company had just set up its first JBoss application server -- open source technology for Java that first arrived on the scene 15 years ago.

Such retrograde examples are legion. Nonetheless, there's no question that the enterprise technology adoption model has changed. Open source and cloud enable your own technologists and even line-of-business folks to experiment at low or no cost like never before. Deals being made between CIOs and big tech company salespeople on the golf course no longer dominate decision-making. Instead, recommendations bubble up from people (increasingly including developers) who get their hands dirty with open source or cloud solutions.

When it comes to adopting such new solutions at scale, however, obstacles emerge, beginning with the age-old problem of moving ancient, poorly documented business logic from older systems to more modern platforms. Even with greenfield projects, companies learn the realities of open source and cloud. Fully supported enterprise versions of open source solutions may not be as pricey as old-fashioned commercial software. But when you add system integration costs, the bill can lengthen rapidly. Plus, enterprise cloud providers now routinely offer better rates for longer commitments, to the point where it sometimes seems cloud providers are trying to emulate the old software licensing model.

People like me who sit on the edge of Silicon Valley get bowled over by the eruption of new tech and tend to talk about trends such as big data as if they're already part of the landscape. The truth is that technology may be moving faster than ever, but enterprises with massive investments in last-generation technology will always proceed with caution. Some of that inhibition relates to lock-in, some stems from compliance issues, and some derives from the difficulty of selling such intangibles as "agility" to the business side.

My advice is don't turn to the self-appointed prophets of the Valley to chart your future course. Find the smart folks inside of your organization who are already experimenting with the exciting new stuff, and ask them what will give you the biggest bang for the buck today and has the greatest potential to help you build a foundation of lasting value.

You can't stand still -- nor would you want to. But to chart the road ahead, turn to your own best and brightest, who have unprecedented opportunity to for hands-on evaluation of the latest enterprise tech.

This article, "Experiencing Silicon Valley overload? For help, look inward," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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