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商业 - 科技

云计算是终级颠覆性创新吗?

Aaron Levie 2011年10月08日

Box.net的CEO和共同创始人阿隆•列维认为,云计算在企业IT生态系统内引发了一场重大的价值转变。

    阿隆•列维

    克雷顿•克里斯滕森的“创新者困境”(Innovator's Dilemma)理论直至2011年的今天仍然适用,他的拥趸应该丝毫不会对此感到奇怪。显然,创新依然很重要。要想知道创新的作用,看看你的电脑桌面就知道了。想想看,你平日里常用的桌面软件有多少?然后把它与你和你的公司所使用的云服务的数量做一个对比。如果你也像其他大多数商务人士一样,那么在过去的20年里,你肯定一直在与各种缓慢、痛苦、繁琐的应用程序打交道,因为你需要它们帮你运作项目,管理客户,共享文件。有时候软件的安装要花上数月的时间,有时候维护成本甚至超过了原始产品的价格。有时意想不到的延误和宕机会导致生产率出现明显下降。但是随着云计算的出现,一切都改变了。

    云计算提供的企业解决方案恰好符合克里斯滕森的“破坏式创新”理论框架。它们为传统的企业运算模式提供了更便宜、更简便、适用范围更广泛的替代性选择。它们一开始往往扮演低端的搅局者角色,靠成本和性能上的优势来吸引已经被过度服务的客户。不过随着这些技术的可靠性和复杂性渐渐成熟,它们开始在企业间迅速传播开来,并且开始解决某些企业最重要的问题——云计算的发展恰好符合这个过程。克里斯滕森一定得意地笑了。

    这一切都为传统的企业软件制造巨头制造了巨大的麻烦。这些软件巨头也深知需要做出跨跃式的创新,但是他们缺乏创新的商业模式和DNA,也缺乏背水一战的紧迫性。全球每年花在企业软件上的经费超过2,700亿美元,但到目前为止,这些钱只有很少的一部分装进了云计算厂商的口袋。现在还缺乏明确的激励,促使传统软件商强势进军云计算领域。如果这些软件企业突然转型,可能会让客户感到困惑,扰乱渠道,公司经济状况失衡,或者导致执行不力。因此,困境就出现了。

为什么说云计算是一种颠覆性创新?

    当然,并非所有的创新都是颠覆性的。如果一项技术进步仅仅只是强化了现有厂商在某个特定领域的地位,那么它只能算得上是一项可持续性创新,而不是颠覆性创新。如果某项技术进步几乎没有给现行的业务模式或主流的市场策略带来什么变化,或者这项技术进步只是一项非线性的技术,那么市场现有的其他参与者可以说还是安全的。例如在存储业务领域,领先的存储提供商(在一定范围内)作出的性能方面的改善往往是可持续的。而全新技术的出现,比如闪存,则会使市场上的新玩家能够利用这个机会更快地赚到钱,更快地实现新技术的商业化。可以断言,这种情况将会不断出现。

    互联网刚刚出现的时候,作为回应,戴尔(Dell)公司也跟风推出了Dell.com网站,但后者对戴尔而言只是一个新渠道,卖的还是那一套产品。如果能有效利用互联网,你会发现戴尔以前的产品目录和它新建的网站(Dell.com)之间并没有明显的差别。然而,每个市场都是不同的。例如随着整个世界向超本文方向转变,点评网站Yelp填补了黄页的空白,取得了成功。这并不是因为网络本身是一项能够连接本地信息的颠覆性创新,而是因为Yelp的用户生成式评论提供了一种全新的方式和体验,为用户提供本地向导。黄页这种产品缺乏社区概念,对当今世界毫无意义。

    当今世界,没有什么东西是确定的,只有死亡、税收,和企业软件的破坏性除外。上世纪90年代,在“用户—服务器”模式取代大型主机后,整个行业也经历了一场剧变。1995年《纽约时报》(the New York Times)在评述仁科公司(PeopleSoft)以及用户—服务器模式时说:“任务在‘用户’计算机和大型主机间重新分配,并在二者间或多或少实现了平衡。”这项新的标准(当然现在已经过时了)代表了价值的剧变,因为使用了PC标准后,应用程序变得更加强大,更加现代化,数据可以大量集中,而且运行成本只相当于大型主机时代的一小部分。

    快进到15年后,这种大规模的变革再次上演。这一次,大多数的核心业务应用被搬到了网络上。那么为什么说云计算是一次颠覆性的变革,而不是那种传统的软件厂商可以迅速实现的创新呢?

    这是因为云端软件的销售、营销、分销和应用等方方面面都与以前大不一样。云服务的销售和营销与终端用户的服务捆绑在一块,而不是传统企业软件那种托管式的从上至下的部署。云计算的技术是通过网络分销的,某个市场领袖企业所获得的技术,在本质上并不比一家初创公司所获得的技术更有优势——也就是说,网络的分配是完全民主的,而在过去,软件主要是由合作伙伴或软件厂商通过最分散的销售力量来交付。最后,产品本身也几乎完全不同。云解决方案所面对的是一个协作、移动、开放的世界。

    某些软硬件类别的传统厂商或多或少被迫丧失了通过云计算为顾客提供支持的能力。比如你可以设身处地地假设自己是某家知名存储厂商,主要向IT买家和服务提供商销售硬件。假设现在亚马逊(Amazon)也生产出了自己的存储产品,并提供给现有的开发者和客户,因为它们已经达到了相当的规模。那么你会不会决定推出一项云存储服务,与亚马逊进行竞争?大多数存储领域的企业没有这样做,因为如此一来,他们就必须和其他客户展开直接竞争。这样的话,许多厂商就会处于不利地位,必须小心调整自己的业务模式,这就成了一场风险游戏。

    总之,云计算使初创公司拥有了一系列独特的价值驱动因素,使他们可以在安全的距离内与传统的业界豪强进行竞争。

    正如MySQL甚至没有与甲骨文(Oracle)争夺客户,就兵不血刃地击败了后者一样,如今的许多云解决方案也采取了相同的路数来蚕食传统大公司的地盘。他们刚刚问世时波澜不惊,悄然混迹于“凑合够用”的阵营;之后,他们的产品路线图变得越来越清晰,开始为客户提供更重要的服务。不知不觉间,“凑合”变成了“很好”,“很好”变成了“更好”。以Salesforce.com(CRM)为例,如果关注这款销售系统的时间超过10年,人们就会发现一个惊人的趋势。2002年,刚刚起家的Salesforce.com只占据了全球客户关系管理(CRM)市场2%的份额,分析人士经常把它忽略不计。他们说:“(Salesforce.com)与希柏(Siebel)和仁科(PeopleSoft)等大型CRM公司的服务完全无法相提并论。他们在功能上总是有所欠缺。”然而到了2011年,Salesforce.com已经实现了20亿美元的营收入,客户也发展到10万多家,公司正在快速发展为世界最大的软件公司之一。

    同样的情节也正发生在云计算领域其他新一代的企业软件竞争者身上。许多成本更低廉、而且从根本上更加简单的应用已经从云计算中涌现出来,正在蚕食着传统企业软件公司的地盘。比如ERP云方案提供商Workday已经不再仅仅只关注中端市场,它的市场拓展得很快,最近刚与时代华纳(Time Warner)和汤森路透(Thomson Reuters)敲定了合同,这必定会使甲骨文和SAP深感压力重大。另一家云方案提供商GoodData最近刚刚募集到了1,500万美金,因为它的2,500多家企业客户认识到,GoodData所提供的企业情报软件价格只相当于IBM和甲骨文的一小部分。至于我们的Box服务,客户可以在Box上存储内容,价格往往只相当于传统系统的五分之一,客户还可以在任何设备上访问这些内容,这种功能是任何预制应用都不可能实现的。

    与此类似的是,许多新兴的云计算企业提供的服务对于前一代软件来说都是不容易实现、不可能实现,甚至是不必要的。例如Zendesk和Assistly与大量的系统实现了更轻松的整合,扮演了一个客户接触点的角色,因此颠覆了整个客户支持市场。他们的服务是预制应用厂商既没有技术、也没有资金和手段去做的。Jive和Yammer使用了一种无形的社交和流媒体式的模式来处理传统的电子邮件和协作系统,这当然是缺乏社交技术的微软(Microsoft)所不具备的。Okta和Snaplogic帮助企业将他们的身份和应用数据分别进行互联。这些服务的共通之处是什么?那就是他们所解决的问题,传统软件企业不仅没法解决,甚至还没有开始理解。还没等传统软件企业回过神来,这些初创公司已经攫取了大量市场份额,而且开始向企业应用领域的腹地挺进。

    Fans of Clayton Christensen's "Innovator's Dilemma" will be unsurprised that the formula is still alive and well, even in 2011. Yes, apparently innovation still matters. To see the original effect in action, look no further than your desktop. How much desktop software do you generally use on a daily basis? Now, compare that to how many services you -- and your company -- are using in the cloud, delivered over the web. If you're like most business people, for the past two decades you've been dealing with slow, painful and cumbersome applications to help run your projects, manage your customers and share files. Installations of software tend to take months, maintenance costs more than the original product price, and unexpected delays and down time result in a massive drop in productivity. But all this changes with the cloud.

    Cloud-delivered enterprise solutions fit consistently and nicely into Christensen's framework for "disruptive innovation." They offer cheaper, simpler and often more broadly applicable alternatives to legacy models of enterprise computing. They tend to start out as low-end disruptors, bringing cost and performance advantages to over-served customers, but as these technologies mature in their reliability and sophistication, they're spreading throughout organizations and solving some of the most demanding problems. Christensen must be gloating.

    All this spells very big trouble for the traditional enterprise software leaders who plainly know they need to make the leap, but don't have the business models, DNA, or dire necessity to support the change today. Over $270 billion dollars are spent on enterprise software every year, but so far, only a fraction of those dollars is going in the pockets of cloud vendors. There just isn't much explicit incentive for the enterprise stalwarts to move that aggressively to the web. Sudden and forceful movements may confuse customers, disrupt channels, transition economics inequitably, or lead to poor product execution. Hence the predicament.

Why is cloud a disruptive innovation?

    Not all innovations are disruptive, of course. If a technology advance merely reinforces the position of incumbent vendors in a given category, it qualifies as a sustaining -- rather than disruptive -- innovation. If there are minimal changes with respect to business models and go-to-market strategies, or the technology advance is non-linear technology, existing market players are generally safe. In the memory business, for instance, improvements in performance (within a given range) are often sustainable by the leading storage providers. Whereas the introduction of an entirely new technology, such as flash storage, gives the advantage to new players who can capitalize on the opportunity and commercialize it more quickly. This, predictably, shows up time and time again.

    When the world wide web came along and Dell (DELL) launched the Dell.com website in response, it simply became another channel with which they sold the same products. The differences between a catalog and a website are insignificant if you take advantage of the Internet effectively. Yet every market is different: The Yellow Pages dropped a ball that Yelp picked up in the world's move to hypertext, not because the web alone was a disruptive innovation for accessing local information, but because user-generated reviews were a brand new way to experience local guides. And a product like Yellow Pages that already lacked a community had none to transfer over to the new world.

    Nothing in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and enterprise software disruption. In the '90s, the industry went through an upheaval as the client-server model displaced the mainframe. Describing PeopleSoft, and by extension the new wave of client-server computing, the New York Times in 1995 said, "tasks are split more or less evenly between desktop 'client' computers and larger machines." This new (and now old) standard represented a cataclysmic shift in value, because applications could now be much more powerful and modern using PC standards, data could be mostly centralized, and everything would run at a fraction of the cost compared to mainframes.

    Fast forward a decade and a half, and the same large-scale change has occurred yet again with our most core business applications by bringing them to the web. Why is this such a fundamental change, and not one that the old guard can quickly latch onto?

    Well, because nearly ever dimension of the sales, marketing, distribution, and the utility of cloud-powered software is different than before. Sales and marketing are now tied to end-user adoption of services, not mandated top-down deployments of enterprise software. Distributing technology over the web offers current market leaders no intrinsic advantage that a startup can't access – that is, the web is served up completely democratically, whereas software in the past was usually delivered via partners or vendors with the most extensive salesforces. Finally, the products themselves are nearly entirely different. Cloud solutions generally embrace a world defined by collaboration, mobility, and openness.

    And in a few software and hardware categories, traditional vendors are more or less forced out of ever supporting their customers through the cloud. Put yourself in the shoes of an incumbent storage vendor that has traditionally sold its hardware to IT buyers and service providers alike. When Amazon (AMZN) builds out its own storage that it can offer to developers and customers (which it has) because of the scale they've achieved, do you decide to compete with them by launching a cloud storage service? Most in the storage space haven't, because they would find themselves competing directly with their other service customers. This leaves many vendors in the unenviable spot of having to finesse their business model like a game of Risk.

    Altogether, this gives startups a unique set of value drivers that allow them to compete with traditional powerhouses from a safe distance.

    Just as MySQL classically went up against Oracle (ORCL) without ever competing for customers, many cloud solutions today are similarly disrupting the older guard by initially slipping into the "just good enough" category. From there, product roadmaps become more elaborate, customers are served in more meaningful ways, and before you know it just good enough becomes great, and then better. Those who've watched Salesforce.com (CRM) over a ten year period have witnessed a striking example of this trend. In 2002, the then-upstart CRM had 2% marketshare of the global CRM space, and analysts often wrote it off, saying, "[Salesforce] doesn't compare well at all with other large CRM packages like Siebel and PeopleSoft… they will almost always come up short on the functionality side of the equation." In 2011, they'll hit $2 billion in revenue and 100,000 customers, putting them on track to quickly be one of the largest software companies in the world.

    The same is happening with the next batch of enterprise software players in the cloud, where lower cost and fundamentally simpler applications have emerged as aggressors to the traditional enterprise stack. Workday, no longer a mid-market-only play, has quickly shot up market, closing deals with Time Warner (TWX) and Thomson Reuters, which is sure to ruffle some feathers in Redwood Shores and Walldorf. GoodData raised $15 million on the heels of over 2,500 customers realizing they can get business intelligence software at a fraction of the cost of solutions from IBM (IBM) and Oracle. And at Box, customers can store content often for a fifth of the cost of traditional systems, and then get to that information from any device, something that is universally impractical with an on-premise application.

    Similarly, many emerging companies are operating on dimensions that were never easy, possible, or necessary in a previous generation of software. Zendesk and Assistly have disrupted the support market by integrating more easily into the myriad of systems which now act as customer touch-points, something on-premise vendors have neither the technology nor wherewithal to do. Jive and Yammer take on traditional email and collaboration systems by incorporating an untouchable social and stream-like model that anti-social technologies from Microsoft unsurprisingly lack. Okta and Snaplogic help businesses connect their identities and application data together respectively. What do all of these services have in common? They're all solving new problems that the incumbents not only can't attack, they also can't even begin to understand. But before they know it, startups will have pulled away significant market share as move more deeply into the enterprise.

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