Survival of the fit-most

The Web emphasizes connections, sharing and community. In this environment, the individuals, tools and organizations best adapted to thrive are those best able to connect. Not the fittest so much as the fit-most.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

In the emerging Web era, connectedness reigns supreme. Competitive survival is no longer the preserve solely of the strong, the quick and the nimble — the attributes popularly associated with Darwin's adopted motto, survival of the fittest. The Web emphasizes connections, sharing and community, enabling a further advance in the evolution of homo sapiens as a social creature.

In this environment, the individuals, tools and organizations best adapted to thrive are those best able to connect. Not the fittest so much as the fit-most.

This change may seem to be the consequence of technology innovation — in this case, the Web — having an impact on society. But perhaps the rise of the Web is itself a reflection of a change that was already taking shape, a reaction against the individualist creed that culminated in the 1980s notion that 'Greed is good.' Today we see a generational shift towards shared endeavor and a backlash against excessive intellectual property protection.

A fresh example of this emerging collaborative mindset came last week when online backup vendor Backblaze published the specifications it uses to build low-cost storage devices for its data center. Ten years ago, this would have seemed a crazy revelation of a proprietary secret. Today, it looks like a smart move because we have a better understanding of the notion of crowd-sourcing. We realize that Backblaze aims to tap the collaborative expertise of the Web community to hone and refine the savings it can make on its physical storage costs. It's a rational decision because the company isn't giving away the operational details of its core service offering — it may even strengthen its selling power by publicly demonstrating the viability of its prices compared to such low capital spending costs ("three-tenths of one penny per gigabyte per month over the course of three years").

Yet making the most of the doctrine of the fit-most means overturning long-held instincts to act privately and secretly, and instead making a conscious effort to share and use communal assets, whether as providers or consumers. The pressure to conform to deeply ingrained behaviors and customs is hard to resist (Zoho recently became the latest in a long line of SaaS and cloud providers to cave in to the clamor for a 'private cloud' option). We know why we want to keep things private — the arguments are well-rehearsed and almost a universal folk memory — whereas the impulse to share is much less well documented and understood.

Sharing and community are nevertheless at the heart of our success as a species, and 'survival of the fit-most' is all about replicating that success in the cloud computing environment. Instead of trying to do everything alone as a hermetically sealed entity, the cloud encourages us to reach out and utilize the services of others that do what they do better than we can do it ourselves — which is exactly how human civilization works. We are all individually stronger and more potent when we rely on each other.

In cloud computing, survival of the fit-most emphasizes attributes such as:

  • Community aggregation — shared infrastructures benefit hugely from pooling the experiences of hundreds, thousands or millions of customers in real-time. Providers (like Zoho) that allow private implementations dilute this benefit and weaken their competitive edge with every separate instance.
  • Openness to connectivity — the more any enterprise opens its computing to cloud connectivity, the easier it becomes to connect to everthing that's out there, whether it's third-party resources and services, or simply customers and partners.
  • Agile adoption of new resources — any degree of isolation from the cloud makes you less ready to grab hold of and use new innovations or more competitive resources as they emerge.
  • Better mobility — If you're not in the cloud, you've got to do more to connect to workers and resources that are outside that contained environment you've built.

The essence of cloud computing is this openness to connectivity, mobility and collaborative endeavor. Privately hosted, virtualized infrastructure may look like a cloud, but it is 'fool's cloud' — like iron pyrite, the appearance is deceptive. The message of survival of the fit-most is that you can't take computing out of the cloud and still call it cloud computing. Cut off from the shared assets of the Web, such captive clouds will always be inferior to the real thing.

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