Servers are cheap, talent is expensive

Of late, I’ve been talking to Amazon customers who are saying, you know, AWS gives us a ton of benefits, it makes a lot of things easy and fast that used to be hard, but in the end, we could do this ourselves, and probably do it at comparable cost or a cost that isn’t too much higher. These are customers that are at some reasonable scale — a take-back would involve dozens if not hundreds of physical server deployments — but aren’t so huge that the investment would be leveraged over, say, tens of thousands of servers.

Most people don’t choose cloud IaaS for lowered costs, unless they have very bursty or unpredictable workloads. Instead, they choose it for increased business agility, which to most people means “getting applications, and thus new business capabilities, more quickly”.

But there’s another key reason to not do it yourself: The war for talent.

The really bright, forward-thinking people in your organization — the people who you would ordinarily rely upon to deploy new technologies like cloud — are valuable. The fact that they’re usually well-paid is almost inconsequential compared to the fact that these are often the people who can drive differentiated, innovative business value for your organization, and they’re rare. Even if you have open headcount, finding those “A” players can be really, really tough, especially if you want a combination of cutting-edge technical skills with the personal traits — drive, follow-through, self-starting, thinking out of the box, communication skills, and so on — that make for top-tier engineers.

Just because you can do it yourself doesn’t mean that you should. Even if your engineers think they’re just as smart as Amazon’s engineers (which they might well be), and are chomping at the bit to prove it. If you can outsource a capability that doesn’t generate competitive advantage for you, then you can free your best people to work on the things that do generate competitive advantage. You can work on the next cool thing… and challenge your engineers to prove their brilliance by dreaming up something that hasn’t been done before, solving the challenges that deliver business value to your organization. Assuming, of course, that your culture provides an environment receptive to such innovation.

Posted on August 24, 2012, in Infrastructure and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. My brother, who lives in Paraguay, was visiting last summer, and we drove by a road construction site. (There’s a connection, bear with me.) We noted that here in the US, you’ll often see a construction site with 10 different pieces of construction equipment, and one or two guys working the site. In Paraguay (or, indeed many places) you’ll see one or two pieces of equipment, and 30 guys. It’s all about which is cheaper. Here, that one guy who can operate all of those pieces of equipment is very expensive, but renting the equipment is relatively expensive. There, the equipment is hard to come by, but the labor is cheap.

    It’s pretty cool to have arrived in the future where computers are so cheap that throwing an extra server (or 100 of them) is a matter of a few button presses, and it becomes easy to forget the brilliant folks at AWS, Rackspace, Azure, and so on, that do the work in the data centers you’ll never actually visit.

    I, for one, have had my years of managing physical servers, and I’m content to never touch the actual server hardware again.


  2. Agreed, Servers are indeed cheap, but cloud computing isn’t rocket science – and making cloud computing out to be something that requires some esoteric skill sets – is just self aggrandizing.

    As talented as the AWS folks are (and they are), the software to deploy both IaaS & PaaS layers of the cloud is becoming more readily available, easier to configure & deploy in house; and there are technical support teams (like ours at ActiveState) with long years of Enterprise technical support backing these endeavors.

    Talent should be used well not squandered on things that can be easily automated.


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