Why are we still talking about The Stack?

I have been an attendee of MR Rangaswami’s enterprise software conferences since their inception five years ago, and yesterday’s sessions of Software 2007 (see www.sandhill.com) deserve some response.

Hasso Plattner is a smart guy, to be sure, and his keynote address acknowledged the massive transformation we are witnessing in the software industry.  Pundits have commented on his “chalkboard-style” presentation, yet no one has yet to point out that it was simply a chalkboard font to give the illusion of personalized notes.  Shane Robison (from HP) was far too unwilling to challenge his competitors/partners (Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, SAP) by saying anything that was controversial; no one seemed to notice his lapse in logic as he reiterated that HP was serious about software, yet offered nothing new in their roadmap as they shift R&D from hardware to software.  Even the PR/Marketing gurus in the breakout sessions were inconclusive: everyone notes the importance of innovation and the dominance of communities (of users, developers, bloggers, et. al) yet none of them was willing to propose a unique strategy for enabling us/them.  Marc Benioff comes the closest with his Software-as-a-Service paradigm, which some of us have been recognizing since Salesforce.com (and Corio and Jamcracker) were called ASPs in 2001.

One obvious (to this writer) theme echoed throughout everyone’s presentations:  The Stack.

Why are we still talking about The Stack?

For those unfamilar with this stale metaphor, a simple explanation: imagine a Powerpoint diagram of ascending boxes, with “the network” at the bottom, above which is a layer of “databases,” above which is a layer of “applications” and crowning the stack, a browser-based user interface.  Every IT diagram has included a variation of this diagram for the past ten years, and it was easily witnessed again this year in the “vision” of SAP, HP, Microsoft and friends.

Yes, they also nodded affirmatively to the slow-but-sure acceptance of services-oriented architectures, re-usable components and models, and widely available (even open source) functions and features that can and will be accessed ubiquitously across a worldwide network, yet no one in the room was willing to admit what I will state here:  The Stack is a legacy system, and the institutions who still depend upon the metaphor are those who continue to build and serve legacy architectures.  Of course, The Stack will not go away (few legacy systems ever do go away), except in those few, truly visionary institutions (think: Credit Suisse) who understand the challenge is not about linking devices, but about linking people, institutions that understand that the network is not the platform: we are the platform.

We are diffuse, global, personal, and inclined toward “local” communities (of thinking and behavior, not geography anymore).

We are the fundamental components of a network that is most often diagrammed without those fundamental components. 

At our best, we are not hierarchical (The Stack is hierarchical, and therefore does not serve us at our best).

Perhaps the keynoters will begin to acknowledge this at MR’s conferences in 2008 or 2010.

We are the Platform.

Explore posts in the same categories: Examples, Useful Metaphors

3 Comments on “Why are we still talking about The Stack?”

  1. john philpin Says:

    alas – i wasn’t there …. but on reading this – soooooo – wish i was…..

  2. smoothspan Says:

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying here, Stuart. In fact, it fit so well with another piece I was writing on Web 2.0 that I linked over to this article from my blog:


    Thanks for writing, and I can see I need to pick up a copy of your book!



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