The Curious Case of Impulse Computing

There is a lot of passion around defining cloud computing, imageand frankly a lot of traditional enterprise vendors are playing defense. In chess they would call it a quiet defense, moving pieces into positions where they can defend dynamically if called upon.If AWS cloud infrastructure as a service is going to replace their customer’s current spend they want to position their architecture as what a cloud ‘is’ to soften the blow.

But thinking about cloud computing purely as a ‘replacement’ trend is a bit daft.


The other big distraction is comparing it in cost to building and running your own data-center on a fulltime basis. Costs should favor ‘as a service’ offerings over time as the market expands; its hit or miss today.

But comparing the costs of something you can access for a moment to the cost of committing to it for four years is a bit daft.


Thinking replacement this early in the market is a quaqmire. Instead I asked myself: “What percentage of AWS revenue is from projects that otherwise wouldn’t have happened?” I believe more than a third, and that third is where the really interesting things are happening.

Cloud infrastructures are the ultimate friend of the unproven idea. The impulsive act of computational creativity not worth pushing through a heavy-weight process. The application idea no Tesla driving MBA on Sand Hill wanted to fund. The quick quant run you need right now before your presentation—a whole array of processing and storage acts not worth the social burden of scheduling metaphorical camera crew for, but very worth pulling a Flip out of your pocket. AWS, quite literally, grew, the addressable market for computing in the same way the Flip grew video.

I have named this new market the ‘impulse computing’ market, and its growing faster than any other segment. (Do you have a strategy for it? Get off the defensive!)

This ‘Big Think’ video from Robert Cialdini offers us a great clue as to why many projects were snuffed out in the past. Being out of step with a group causes us literal physical pain on a small scale. The bigger the social burden in explaining our creative ideas, the less likely we are to pursue them.

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What’s that mr MBA? You didn’t have cultural and social inertia as a project cost on your spread-sheet? Exactly. Its why you were looking for the new technology in AWS when it launched, saw none and underestimated its cultural, social, and innovation impacts.

So What:

  • Opportunity costs, are the greatest cost savings generated by cloud computing.
  • Use cloud computing to unleash your organizational creativity. Any software developer you are willing to pay a handsome salary too should also have an unlimited @Rackcloud account at her disposal just like they have water in the faucet, and a phone on their desk.
  • Computing power over time will come to resemble our attitudes towards bandwidth.  Use whatever you want within some generous limit without asking. When people don’t have to explain their resource usage creativity increases.
  • Vendors need to wake up to the dynamics of more impulsive projects. It won’t be easy, much of enterprise IT is focused on availability.

James Watters

James Watters is currently the Sr. Manager of Cloud Solutions Development at VMware where he is responsible for developing partner run public cloud computing solutions. He is active in the SF Bay Area cloud computing community and organizes the SF Cloud Club while blogging for Silicon Angle. Prior to VMware James held positions in sales, corporate strategy, product management and engineering at Sun Microsystems and Level 3 Communications. Over his career James has focused on strategic issues around scaled data-center infrastructure and open source and virtualization software.


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  1. Just as there are multiple segments for normal hosting vs colo/dedicated the impulse computing space follows suit. There are two distinct audiences.., 1) startup types that are playing around with ideas…, 2) SMB/Enterprise groups that have projects they need/want to implement..,

    A high percentage of the startups would work on their projects anyways.., working localhost style or shared/dedicated hosting, especially for web apps. The tipping point is when they know a big part of the equation is solved with cloud infrastructure and the success factor is a lot less daunting of an “how to execute” path.

    The SMB/Enterprise space is broken into two segments, one is one-off/periodic computing projects that might or might not happen.., nice to have types. Other is upgrades of existing systems, whether to procure new systems/hardware or migrate to cloud. Each of these has an impulse factor to pulling the trigger. NY Times case study of digitizing their archives is one of the best cases for cloud usage/impulse ever, perfect example of a project that was going to happen, but over a longer period of time for more $$, but cloud allowed some impulse testing and uber quick implementation cycle as a fraction of the cost.

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