What has killed technology innovation in virtualization?

What has killed technology innovation in virtualization?

Summary: There's a serious shift in which innovation is happening and is not happening in virtualization. My goal is to find out why the innovation spirit has bailed out of the virtual world.


I just heard Paula Cole's, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? on the radio and I started to consider that same question in terms of technology innovation. Some people call them mavericks, some call them cowboys and some call them misfits. I don't know the correct term for those who, and I really hate this phrase, "think outside the box" but I'm searching for them. I want to find the innovators and the people who make things happen in this industry — specifically, in virtualization. I haven't seen any new innovation in virtualization in the past two years or more and I just want to know, where, indeed, all the cowboys have gone.

"The paradox of innovation is that it is accepted as an innovation when it has become imitation." — Piero Scaruffi

Without mentioning any company names, I'm going to analyze what I think is happening to innovation in a few key companies in this industry. I'll leave it to you to fill in the blanks where company names should be.

The brain drain

"Keep in mind that imagination is at the heart of all innovation. Crush or constrain it and the fun will vanish." — Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

I think that there's a general exodus of the best and brightest talent from large companies. This has always been a problem but it seems that it's more prevalent now than ever. The true "rock stars" are leaving and they're taking band members with them on the way out. They're starting new companies, developing new products and getting bought out by the larger companies that don't innovate. It's a vicious cycle.

Death by acquisition

"Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation." — Edward Abbey

Some company executives might think that innovation is too expensive to do in-house, so they'll just buy their innovation. It's worked for other companies. Oracle, for example, has consumed dozens of companies including MySQL, Sun, Stellent, and PeopleSoft. There's no reason to spend years on R&D, when you can buy your innovations fresh. There's nothing necessarily wrong with buying innovation and innovative products as long as you acquire the talent, too. Often, though, the talent takes the money, the obligatory one year of "jail" time and then bails to create a new company bent on innovation all over again. It too is a vicious cycle.

No value in mental stock

"Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road." — Voltaire

A lot of large companies just don't value innovation. And that's really too bad. There are people who would develop new products and share ideas if there were some reward for it. Of course, the official word is that they do value innovation and want innovation but the sad reality is that innovation isn't nurtured, it's suppressed. I have friends in companies of all sizes, from the Fortune 50 all the way to mom and pop businesses. The smaller ones value innovation but often see it as "part of your job" if you come up with something spectacular. For this reason, many seek opportunities outside the company walls and in their own businesses.

It makes me question if those renegade innovators value innovation or are they basically "one hit wonders". For example, a gang of geniuses depart a large company, form their own company to create some technology service or product, and become successful. Does that company value innovation? Chances are very good that it doesn't. It has its product or service and it doesn't want to deviate from that singular goal. That sort of mentality creates more splintering, new companies, new innovations, and more fodder for uptake by large, non-innovating entities. Yep, you guessed correctly, if you said, "vicious cycle".

Upgrades are enough

"Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?" — Frank Herbert

Another reason I see for the lack of innovation is that company execs have grown lazy at their success. They feel that releasing a new version every couple of years is innovating. FYI, it isn't. Neither is releasing a new management tool. That's really not innovation. Upgrades are a natural progression of any product. Battle testing and feedback help drive that progression. The release-> upgrade-> release-> upgrade cycle isn't vicious and it isn't innovative.

Competition makes good business

"Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship...the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth." — Peter F Drucker

My grandfather used to say that "Competition makes good business". He was in business for himself for more than 40 years. He knew what he was talking about. But he also came from a time when the customer was always right too. Those days are gone aren't they? They shouldn't be. Innovation drives competition. Unfortunately, many companies have lost sight of that basic premise. These days price seems to be the only negotiating point that anyone has to work with.

Competition and innovation set companies and their services and products apart from the pack. You get ahead of the competition by innovating. You stay there by keeping the innovation engine running.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

"If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old." — Peter F Drucker

I used to believe that building on past successes would work forever. It won't. For example, when x86 first began via VMware's initial product back in the late 1990s, I thought that it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. That entry into virtualization was pretty cool. But VMware didn't just sit around and release upgrades to that original product every two years, it innovated. It developed new products.

Had it simply settled for that original giant, it would be a part of faded memory by now. Its success is a testament to the value of standing on the shoulders of one giant and then building another giant. And another and another and so on.

Innovation is the keystone to breakthroughs in any business or industry.

It seems that real innovation has halted, or at least slowed to an imperceptible crawl, in virtualization. Now, that said, I'm not in the secret loop of product development at any company. I don't know what anyone has up their virtual sleeves.

A time for solutions

"Chance favors the connected mind." — Steven Johnson

I'm not one to present a problem without also offering a solution. The solution to the lack of innovation is simple. To innovate, you must participate. To participate, you must listen. Listen to your employees. Listen to your customers. And listen to your competition.

You also have to offer some reward for innovation, some incentive that makes it worthwhile for your employees to come forward with great ideas. There are hundreds of great ideas in the minds of your employees that are busting to see the light of day. The problem is that they'll never see the light of day because no one's listening.

When you don't listen, employees get frustrated. When employees get frustrated, they leave and they start their own companies and they innovate.

I've focused on virtualization for this post but the concepts apply to any industry or business.

Virtualization is nice.

Cloud computing is cute.

What's next?

The answer to that question is the next multibillion-dollar idea. It could be the seed for a startup composed of frustrated ex-employees or it could be employees with a stake in the success of the company that they work for now. Don't allow your company's best minds bleed off. Retain them. Allow them to spread their wings and innovate, create, and expand. If you don't, then you only have yourself to blame for your falling value.

What's next in virtualization?

That's the question to answer.

Find the cowboys and they'll have the answer.

I've offered my ideas of why innovation has slowed. What do you think the problem is? Or alternatively, if you can cite some good examples of recent virtualization innovation, please talk back and let me know.

My own personal quotation:

"I'm glad that God wasn't satisfied with an empty universe." — Ken Hess

Topics: Virtualization, Emerging Tech, IT Employment, Tech Industry


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • It's not just virtualization,

    it's almost all tech related fields. Maybe it's just my perspective, but it seems that
    most new products are either re-packaged prior product, or small refinements such
    as better font handling, more pixels, etc. One of the primary deterrents to innovation
    is current patent processes. Too broad ranging patents are granted on all kinds of
    ideas, many times no product utilizing those patents are brought to fruition by the
    original patent holder, and little if anything is known until someone else introduces
    a product that may be infringing on some IP somewhere somehow. How can a truly
    inventive person or company bring new products to market in this type of climate?
    Then again, I may be barking up the wrong tree...hmm, is that phrase patented? If
    so I'll probably be sued for royalties...LOL!
    • Please note,

      I'm not saying we should abolish all patents...on the contrary, I believe that a true
      innovative idea, methodology, technique or device should be patentable, that the
      people that work on these products should receive recompense for their labor.
      We just need to fine tune our patent systems so that frivolous patents and
      capital draining legal proceedings are a distant memory.
      • point taken

        You have a valid point. Some patents make innovation difficult. It's hard enough as it is but then to have to do an extensive patent search with each new idea is a bit ridiculous.
        • Try and get funding in an idea you can't defend in courts.

          All current innovations have happened with the current system.
          You can't get sued for doing something noone else has done.
          • ...or might be challenged in court for that matter.

            Actually you can get sued for just about anything including things no one else has done but someone is willing to claim to have done or at least vaguely hinted at being kind of doable.

            The fact that all current innovations have happened in the current system is logically meaningless but given that the author's premise is that innovation is declining it would be a poor defense of the current system as well.
      • Re: should receive recompense for their labor.

        But there is hardly any "labor" in coming up with a patent: it's just an idea, the hard work is in actually putting the idea into practice.

        As Thomas Edison said, anything worth achieving is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. The patent only covers the inspiration, not the perspiration.
  • A "just good enough" attitude dominates

    Manufacturers have learned that the vast majority of users of technology are not very discerning, so they can max their profit margins by delivering "just good enough" products and services at the lowest cost possible, from flimsy laser printers with no cables and a "starter" cartridge to high maintenance, insecure and overly touchy software. That might bother the tech savvy, but they are a marginal market at best -- wanting the best and using Google to find lowest possible prices. Not exactly a high profit market segment.

    On top of that, anyone coming out with a new, innovative product can expect a letter from lawyers claiming IP infringement if the product catches on. That doesn't exactly help matters.

    Still, when I look at how technologically advanced the latest tablets and smartphones are, how fast both wired and wireless access are these days, and how so much software and visualization is moving to cloud-based systems, there is progress at least, if not quite true "innovation" per se.
  • Money Drives technology

    Let's face it, money is the driving force behind corporate actions. Innovation comes from trying new ideas to see if they work - which expends resources - and only a small percentage of new ideas grow into profitability. Money is incredibly tight right now, and thus companies are not allowing those who have the desire to innovate to expend the resources to do so. When every second of your day has to be "billable" there's barely time to clear the existing path, much less time to blaze new trails.
    • Keeping shareholders happy

      I agree, most businesses are focused on the quaterly results. Not having your xx% growth on the balance sheet is not good for your corporate career!
  • Two words

    Six Sigma.

    The most efficient and reliable organization is one focused on one end and one process. Its ideal employee works all day doing the same thing very, very well, but can at the flip of switch be changed over to another task done just as well, just as hard, and just as long. Call him a Full Time Equivalent....

    The creative types are all over the map; you never know when a job will be done, and you can't tell YOUR boss how much it will cost.

    Plus... you'll get sued by someone sitting on a patent he never intends to make.
  • Great article about innovation.

    It captures innovation in general. Should be slightly rewritten with more general title and without word "virtualization" :)

    Tomas M.
  • Who says big companies can't or don't innovate?

    Apple is one of the biggest companies on the planet, and they have come out with a number of products that were both innovative and sold like hotcakes. Innovation by itself means nothing. You can have the most innovative product on earth, but if nobody wants to buy it, it's useless.
    • If you haven't noticed

      Apple hasn't innovated in a long time they are Plateaued.
  • Virtualization & Cloud

    Has anyone taken time to explain to the average person what virtualization and cloud really can do for their business and how it may help them ? Could be people don't know what it is or how it works and will not go there .
  • I Never Understood The Point Of Virtualization

    Modern servers run modern, multiuser OSes, don't they? With built-in memory and filesystem protections, and the ability to share resources fairly and prevent one process from clobbering another. So I never understood this reluctance to run more than one server application on the same server, until I realized--it's a Windows thing!

    Windows servers are infested with proprietary apps. And when something goes wrong, the software vendors are quick to point the finger and blame somebody else's software for the problem. So the only recourse the customer has is to isolate these apps on their own separate servers. And if that's not enough of a waste of hardware resources, just add in another 10-15% overhead for virtualization, and your CEO is now wondering where all the IT hardware budget is going.
    • Hardly

      Providing a dedicated container for a given application is the single most effective use of resources on a given piece of hardware and is worth the slight overhead you get from modern hypervisors. Most dedicated servers in the datacenters i have worked in hover around 0-5% average cpu utilization depending on what its running. Thats alot of expensive hardware sitting around doing nothing.