Ultralight Backpacking and The Cloud… Comparisons

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I’ve done a lot of hiking in my day.  I remember a while back reading an allegory to why ultralight backpacking is better.  After adopting some of their core tenants, I was sold.  Ultralight backpacking enhances the part of the sport that I enjoy the most – Experiencing as much country as possible.  It left me more energetic, more agile, and less sore.  Less a slave to my equipment, and instead bending my equipment to my will.  Ultralight backpacking equpment is crafted for a specific function, often multi-function.  Try to make everything in your pack do two jobs and you only need half as much stuff.

Here’s an interesting argument for ultralight backpacking.  Say you have a 50 mile trip ahead of you.  You can average 10 miles per day so you need 5 days of food.  Your food weighs 5 pounds a day, so that’s 25 pounds of food.  Because your food weighs 25 pounds and is huge, you need a big pack.  The pack is heavier.  Because your pack is heavier, you need heavier boots to support your ankles.  You need trekking poles to aid your balance.  Your total gear weight is 65 pounds.

Now leg’s go ultralight.  Say we shave down some equipment, and we can move 15 miles a day.  We only need 3 and a half days of food.  We need less food so we can carry a smaller pack.  Because we have a smaller pack, we don’t need heavy clodhoppers or trekking poles.  We take our lightweight shoes.  Just by changing a few things, our gear weight goes from 65 to 30 pounds.

This is not scientific, but one pattern exists here.  By trimming down on one system (food), we are able to trim down multiple other systems (bag size, footwear, poles) and have a substantially greater benefit.  Let’s apply this same thought process to information technology.

We need a file server, email server, database server, a web server, and 25 workstations for our office.  We need to buy the servers, we need to buy the software licenses, we need to buy 10MB of internet bandwidth.  We need antivirus for everything.  We need backup for everything.  We need to manager and maintain security for everything, upgrade everything.  We need to make everything connect to each other and we need to maintain all of the systems, so we hire a dedicated IT person to maintain it all.

Let’s just say this company adopted cloud technology.  They no longer need a bunch of servers, racks, storage space.  They don’t need to buy software licenses.  They don’t need to upgrade them.  They don’t spend money on expensive antivirus software.  They don’t need a 5TB tape backup.  With every less server, not only is it one less box, but less IT.  Less backup, antivirus, service, power consumption.  Just like when backpacking, the return of having one less server is greater than just the removal of the server.

And think of the role of the IT person.  I used to be that IT person.  Do you know what my job was?  My job was to go to work and make sure that everything worked the same at the end of the day as it did at the start of the day.  My boss called it “spinning wheels”, meaning, I was just keeping the machine running.  Now what could I have been doing in the cloud company?  Sure, maybe there’s a little bit of administration to keep applications in order in the cloud, but I wouldn’t spend my days spinning wheels.  I would be spending my days innovating.  I’d spend my days thinking of new ideas to help the company meet their business goals.  I’d spend more time with users.  I’d have specialized tools in the cloud to do each job and ample budget left over to buy them.

I know this is a bit allegorical, but the illustration is real.  Reduce systems complexity and have more room to innovate and enjoy the ride.  Instead of spending your money on hardware and all the requisite systems and labor to feed it, spend your money on innovation.  When Tom and I founded Red Argyle, we were commtted to not having any physical infrastructure.  Every one of our systems is born in the cloud.  Instead of hiring an IT person or spending siginficiant portions of our time managing systems, Tom and I are freed to spend our days pushing Red Argyle forward.

Do you have an allegory similar to this?  Cloud success story?  Particular tool that you love?  We’d love to hear it.  Post a comment below!

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