Peak Virtualization and Time Dilation

In the movie Interstellar, one of the central themes throughout is gravity, and its effect on the passage of time. This time dilation is something that has long fascinated me, and it was great to see it fleshed out on the big screen by a master like Christopher Nolan. While not giving any spoilers, the basic scientific principle is that relative velocity and gravity both cause time to elapse at a much slower relative pace. So an astronaut could travel to Mars, and come back having aged 18 months, while someone on Earth had aged 19 months. Of course this is a dramatic oversimplification, but my goal is not to explain relativity here.

What does any of this have to do with virtualization, technology, or anything else?

One of my favorite tech podcasts these days is In Tech We Trust. This group of guys has great chemistry, and a broad array of technical experience. If you haven’t checked it out, I would encourage you to give a listen.

The past couple episodes got me thinking about the relativity between those who are technology pioneers, versus the rest of the world. There were mentions of “peak virtualization”, and how technologies like Docker, and everyone rushing to the public cloud, we could be seeing this now. And this is where I believe we can see some time dilation between the relative velocity of a handful of “astronauts”, heavily into technology on the bleeding edge, and reality down here on Earth. People who attend the multitude of different tech conferences, stream Tech Field Day events, and keep abreast of exciting developments in tech, are not in the majority.

The majority is engaged every single day in making the technology they have execute their business goals. While we are musing about OpenStack, Docker, Swift, etc. these folks are grinding it out with programs that were written long ago, and will never be suitable for those types of cutting edge deployments. I know companies right now who are planning projects to migrate core apps off mainframes. And you know how they’re doing it? They’re basically porting applications over so that they will run on open systems. They’re taking apps written in ALGOL, or COBOL, and writing them the exact same way in a language they can sustain, and deploy on open systems.

They’re not re-architecting the entire application, or the way they do business. They’re interested in satisfying a regulator, or auditor, who has identified a risk. They need to do it as inexpensively as possible, and they need to do it without introducing the risk of switching to object based cloud storage, or a widely distributed, resilient cloud model. They’re not concerned with the benefits they can glean from containerization, OpenStack, or whatever. They need to address this finding, or get off this old behemoth mainframe before it dies, or they have to spend millions on a new support contract.

In the real world, which runs on Earth time, the companies I deal with are not willing to entertain dramatic re-architecture of the core parts of their business, just to take advantage of something they don’t see a need for, or business case around. And if you happen to get an astronaut in a company like this, and he or she mentions something about cloud, or a hot new technology, the response is usually befuddlement, or outright dismissal. How can you blame the C level people? They’re constantly seeing stories about gigantic cloud providers taking massive amounts of downtime, and silly outages that affect the majority of the globe. They don’t need that. They need their bonuses.

Remember, many of these people only implemented virtualization because they couldn’t justify NOT doing it.

While many in our circle of astronauts have the luxury of ruminating on the end of virtualization, and the next big thing, the people who are still in the atmosphere have concerns that are far different. Predicting the future is definitely a fool’s errand, but based on what I can see down here, I’d have to guess that we are not yet at peak virtualization.