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。
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。
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.