kyudõ, Space-Time Services Continuum, the Information Technology Black Hole and Next Generation Computing Clouds

October 25, 2009



The culture (specifically, the emphasis on collectivism or individualism) plays a crucial role in business decisions and the results affect both the individual and the group.  Looking at the cultural roots, the recent rise and fall of some technology companies, and the decisions made by their management, perhaps we can learn some lessons to address the current issues facing both Japanese and US companies in improving the efficiencies of current IT infrastructure management.   Current trend toward next generation computing clouds offers an opportunity to reexamine the evolution of POTS, PANS and SANs and learn from the lessons of the past.

While there is a lot of debate about pure individualism and collectivism, free markets and planned economies, history and evolution of POTS, PANS and SANs argue for a middle path.

Kyudõ and the Living Bow

The master moves with graceful elegance.  You can feel the intensity of purpose behind his each move.  You see the master’s face radiating cherubic serenity of a stress-free baby looking into the comfort of mother’s eyes.  Blindfolded, the master focuses his attention on the kiai (the spiritual energy – the vibration) to emulate the four seasons, the spring, summer, autumn and winter.  The mind, the posture and the breathing are all orchestrated in harmony to create that moment of perfection when the master, the bow, the arrow, and the target become one.  All I see is the arrow hitting the bull’s eye perhaps 60 meters away.

According to Jackson Morisawa [1], “The ‘aim’ of kyudõ at Chojen-Ji is never an external focus on the external target.  It is, rather, an internal ‘aim’ focused on the center of the perfect cross.  When one reaches the ‘point zero,’ the body, mind, and energy are in perfect harmony and serenity prevails.  This internal harmony works in relation to the external effect, and the arrow that pierces the mark is penetrating and alive.”  Yamada Shõji [2] discusses the influence of Zen on Japanese archery.  “Dead blade and living sword are Buddhist concepts taught in tantric (Shingon) lineages. We take this principle and merely rename it the dead bow and living bow.  It is the same principle as expressed by the saying “Rejoice in death and live (kõshi sokusei); [Try to] insure life and die (hissei sokushi).” [In other words,] when one’s mind is troubled by fear, one’s bow is dead. When one is willing to sacrifice oneself and regards lightly the loss of one’s own life, then one’s bow comes alive.”

A Zen master in Japan, once, told me that the interesting moment of enlightenment is not when you hit the target.  It is when you miss the target, that the self is revealed, and the understanding of your own shortcoming makes you a better person ready for the next aim.

Watching the unusual feat of the living bow and learning about Zen were part of my studies as a student at Japan American Institute of Management Science (JAIMS) in the paradise island of Oahu, Hawaii.  I became an “accidental student” when my boss, Bud Wonsiewicz, at U S WEST, a telephone company, came to me and suggested that I spend a few months in Hawaii and a few months in Tokyo studying Japanese language, culture, and business.  The purpose was to return to US WEST and establish closer partnership in technology and business, development & transfer between the Japanese Telecommunications company Fujitsu and US West.  Fujitsu has a school in Honolulu that brings students from many countries including Japan to learn business management in a cross-cultural setting.  Top management of Fujitsu and US West decided to choose someone from US WEST management to attend this program and spend a few months in Fujitsu Japan working with various groups learning the Japanese Way.  According to Jinjiro Dodo, the then President of Fujitsu America, Japanese understood the role of personal relationships in creating value in business partnerships and Fujitsu created the school with a long-term view to develop business leaders with inter-cultural understanding and close inter-personal relationships.  He also emphasized that both language and culture play a very important role in business conduct and JAIMS encouraged Japanese students to experience the culture through internships in the US and non-Japanese students to experience Japanese culture through internships in Japan.

US West, one of the baby Bells created by the divestiture of the then regulated monopoly, AT&T, was a quintessential example of the rugged western culture of individualism, set out to create dust so as not to fall behind and eat the dust others created (as the US WEST commercial in this blog says).   Bud Wonsiewicz was a renaissance master with a lineage from MIT and Bell Labs who came to US WEST to bring innovation and transform the plain old telephone company to an information services powerhouse.  He had worked with other masters who made UNIX at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey.  He was starting experiments at US WEST Advanced Technologies using video walls and information appliances in the late 80s.  He had started collaboration with various universities working on different projects including the transmission of holograms over telephone wires at the MIT Media Labs.  He was impressed with the long-term focus of Japanese companies and took the opportunity to collaborate with them.  Later US WEST was to start a project with Time Warner, Toshiba and Itochu to bring information services to home on cable.  More recently, an Itochu executive told me that the Time Warner deal turned out to be a very profitable venture for Itochu.  The decade that followed was a very exciting time at US WEST for innovators, until a few executives were carried away with the Internet bubble and merged with Qwest.  It did not matter to them what havoc the dust they created wreaked on the universe!  The birth and death of US West should be a good case study for the IT industry to learn how the bubble mergers with inflated valuations led by individual egos can go awry and affect thousands of employees, their dreams and the entropy of the universe.  On the other hand, the case study of Steve Jobs would show the positive impact of a single individual.  Even when everybody else had given up on Apple, he resurrected the software innovation and hardware design, leveraging the institutional knowledge.

The next few years, beginning with my first encounter with Dodo San, turned out to be an adventure in discovering new insights into life, technology, quality management, Japanese business, personal relationships and myself.  Learning about Zen, and watching kyudõ with awe in Honolulu, were just the first steps of a journey that opened my eyes to the power of innovation in America, human resource potential in India, the long-term focus and process savvy of management in Japan.

Zen, derived from Buddhism, which originated in India, connects the oneness of individual’s body and mind to the oneness of the universe with the principle of connectedness of all sentient beings.  The resulting concept of “Sangha” has played a role in the evolution of collectivism.  As Lama Surya Das summarizes [3], Sangha implies true community.  “It is taking refuge in true community itself; communion with others – collaboration, connectedness, engagement, responsibility, working together in an organic way, and not in an addicted manner.”   The concern for the group often played a prominent role in Japanese decision-making process, which often resulted in the individual willingly or unwillingly compromising self-interest in the interest of the group.

Later, when I met Dodo San in Tokyo, he told me over a bottle of sake in a small sushi bar, that globalization is creating a new connected universe where collectivism will transcend national boundaries and he saw building global interpersonal relationships as critical to Fujitsu’s future.  The Internet had not yet become the force that it is today.  Broadband was just beginning to take form and Fujitsu aspired to lead the broadband revolution with emerging Asynchronous Transmission Mode (ATM) Switching and SONET transmission technologies.  Fujitsu wanted to play a major role in computers (acquiring ICL in Great Britain) and the PC revolution.  Cisco was still a Silicon Valley startup struggling to understand what it takes to build telecommunication grade systems for the Internet, which originated from a “send and pray” protocol.

The connectivity Dodo San was talking about was very different from the global connectivity today at the speed of light, to which we are accustomed.  Twenty years later, Cisco has established itself as the leader in bringing Telecom grade trust to IP networks.  ATM switching and all the associated companies have disappeared and Fujitsu is struggling domestically and has toned down its global ambitions.  New companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon have emerged, with that unique American innovation, as companies that are the new global communication, collaboration and commerce enablers.   They are offering new ways to access computing services through clouds challenging the conventional Information Technology infrastructure solutions.  Their introduction of computing clouds using the emerging virtualization technology is reshaping the IT infrastructure and its management.  This new revolution will claim new casualties in the conventional IT infrastructure market.  A host of storage and server companies will cease to exist as the next generation servers and storage devices become commoditized.  Some storage companies are already for sale while others are migrating to server and network infrastructure domains to find new ways to survive.

Space -Time Services Continuum & Information Services Changing the Landscape from Banking to Healthcare

The canonical nature of space and time manifests itself in many domains namely, spirituality, theory of relativity, quantum nature of the universe and in just day-to-day living.  In day-to-day life, people have learnt to trade space and time to better organize their lives (manage entropy) and improve productivity.  People are willing to pay to save time as they do when they use faster transportation to move about.  People are also willing to pay for services that allow them to avoid travel by bringing objects and information to where they are and when they want.

The services that people are willing to pay usually have the following attributes [4]:

  1. Choice based on individual requirements
  2. Interactivity
  3. Mobility
  4. On-demand
  5. Cost based on fulfillment-latency tolerance (faster fulfillment at higher price)
  6. Pay per-use  and
  7. The ability to bundle and unbundle the received services

Current generation of information services coupled with high-speed transportation networks have the ability to fulfill these attributes and improve productivity of the individual or group.  Many of the new service offerings in e-commerce, electronic banking, mobile banking, and mobile wallet [5] fall in this category.  Similar attempts are being pursued to improve productivity of health care services.  Information access at speed of light has raised the bar for consumer information services.  The ability to correlate information from many quarters at the speed of light offers the possibility for a new class of services that were not possible before.  In addition, the explosion of social networking, multimedia interactive services and collaboration of groups transcending time and space have placed new demands on service creation, delivery and assurance infrastructure.

In contrast to business services that have higher profit margins, the consumer services have far lower profit margins and infrastructure that the businesses can afford becomes unaffordable for consumer service providers.  While the affordable price points start falling, the volume of services delivered (scaling) increases drastically along with unpredictable fluctuations in demand.  This was true with Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) and it was true with Pretty Amazing Network Services (PANS) that the Internet made possible.  We are again seeing the same phenomenon with emerging mobile internet services and social networking services.

Services Management and the Information Technology Black Hole

On one hand, any service that is not managed cannot scale.  On the other hand, services always out run the pace of their management infrastructure.  There are several reasons for services to grow wildly before they are properly managed to globally scale and interoperate with other services:

  1. There is a cost involved both in time and in resources to include the management aspects in the design of services.
  2. It is not certain whether the services will be successful or not
  3. The profit margins and management affordability are not clear in the beginning
  4. Time to market pressures force short cuts that become burdensome when the service becomes wildly successful
  5. Evolutionary product and technology changes add layers of services and management infrastructures that become burdensome over time

When the services are distributed, their management becomes an important factor for service assurance to meet the latency tolerance of the service consumers.  Globalization at the speed of light makes automation of distributed services management critical to reduce the human latency and improve the consistency of user experience.

If history is any guide, one lesson that I clearly take away from studying the evolution of POTS, PANS and SANs is that the history repeats itself.  In Bell Labs, we always debated about services and services management and it always turned out that the management platforms were never on time for services to meet the market needs.  Management services were always added as an afterthought, when scaling requirements forced the issue.  Local Switching Generic Requirements came first.  Operation Support Systems Generic Requirements came next.  Finally, the Total Network Operation Processes were designed.

When Cisco first introduced the routers, I remember the lack of basic element management, let alone network management.  When SANs were introduced, I asked if Hitachi storage devices supported dynamic FCAPS (Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance and Security) management and people looked at me as if I was an alien.  In all these cases, a huge services industry was created to fill the management gap and it disappeared when the network element providers eventually addressed management.  Recently, when I mentioned dynamic FCAPS management to a couple of Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists (VCs) with respect to virtualization and cloud computing, they gave me a quizzical look and said that they don’t think 90% of the VCs know what FCAPS mean and were skeptical about what it had to do with clouds.  What the current generation of young VCs, the high priests who broker other people’s money for investment in innovation, miss is the fact that telephony is not about voice.  It is about networking abstractions.  It is about end-to-end service creation, delivery and assurance with telecom grade trust, universal access, massive scaling and global interoperability at an affordable price.  Interestingly, SUN got the slogan “network is the computer” right but unfortunately missed the opportunity to create a computing cloud platform before it was acquired by Oracle, thus wasting a generation of innovation and institutional knowledge.  With a broader vision, Bell Labs was able to invent the Transistor and the Laser that transformed the simple voice connectivity to what it is today.  Bell Labs is another example of wasted institutional knowledge dismantled by the short-sighted appetite of free market forces coupled with the poor decisions of a few AT&T executives, regulators, and Judge Green.

Current IT data centers have evolved to meet the business services needs in an evolutionary fashion from server-centric application design to client server networking to Storage Area Networking without an end-to-end optimized architectural transformation along the way.  The server, network and storage vendors optimized management in their own local domains often duplicating functions from other domains to compete.  The application developers also started to introduce server, storage and network management within their applications.  For example, Oracle is not just a database application.  It also is a storage manager, and a network manager besides being an application manager.  It tries to optimize all its resources for performance tuning.  No wonder it takes an army of experts to keep it going.

The result is an over-provisioned data center with multiple functions duplicated many times by the server, storage and networking vendors.  Large enterprises with big profit margins throw human bodies, tons of hardware and a host of software and shelf-ware to address their needs.  Managers in some of the data centers do not even know what assets they have and of course that is yet another opportunity for vendors to sell an Asset Management System that discovers what is available and services to provide asset management using the asset manager.  Another system is de-duplication software that finds out multiple copies of the same files and removes duplication.  This is another example of how expensive it is to clean up after the fact.

Heterogeneous technologies from multiple vendors that are supposed to reduce IT costs actually increase the complexity and management costs.  Today, many CFOs consider IT as a black hole that sucks-in, expensive human consultants, and continually demands capital and operational expenses to add hardware, software and shelf-ware.  Even for mission critical business services, enterprise CFOs are starting to question the productivity and effectiveness of current IT infrastructure.  It becomes even more difficult to justify the costs and complexity to support massive scalability and wild fluctuations in workloads that consumer services demand.  The price point is set low for the mass market but the demand is high for massive scalability.  I understand that a simple service like Facebook alone uses about 40,000 servers.

Unless the cost structure of IT management infrastructure is addressed, the mass-market needs cannot be met profitably.  The cloud service providers are justifiably looking to alternatives just as AT&T looked for alternatives to replace operator services in Telephony.  However, will history repeat itself?  In the rush to provide cloud services and lock-in their solutions, are the cloud service providers making the same mistakes that POTS, PANS and SAN infrastructure vendors made initially and added layers of service management as an after-thought?

Computing Clouds and the Last Best Hope at Crossroads

The evolution of POTS, PANS and SANs influenced the IT infrastructure to change from being server centric in 80s to being network centric in the 90’s and to being storage centric during the past decade.  I remember in the 80s, server vendors roaming the IT data centers to influence the sale.  While the differences between the servers from different vendors were minor, the sale was always made through wining, and dining of a few decision makers.  Sometimes, the new decision makers even reversed the decisions of their predecessors.  In the 90s, the network vendors and during the last decade, storage vendors dictated what the enterprise CTOs and CIOs bought.  Today, storage and its management have become the highly visible costs in the current data center.

With the introduction of server virtualization, and multi-core, multi-CPU green server initiatives, the tables have turned away from storage vendors and we are already seeing the consolidation in the industry where most of the storage companies are on the block for sale, going the way of ATM switch companies.

Amazon, Microsoft and Google in that order seem to have grasped the need for massive scalability and price point sensitivity.  They have successfully exploited server virtualization (some more than the others have) to create cloud environments at the right price points.  They have just started to address availability, performance and security issues.

Today, Cloud Computing (public or private or hybrid) offers the last best hope for saving the enterprises from the IT black hole.  However, unless cloud providers address telecom grade trust and provide end-to-end application visibility and control including business customer mission critical applications, clouds will be relegated to non-mission critical archiving, e-mail (mission critical enterprise e-mail will still be on Exchange) and social networking applications where customers are price sensitive and tolerate occasional downtime. In POTS, end-to-end visibility and control was provided through the automation of operation and business support systems.  The Internet through IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) request for comment process incorporated end-to-end network operation and management automation.  Unfortunately, in the IT data center, end-to-end application (CPU to Spindle) operation and management is provided by an evolutionary patchwork of systems sold by multiple, server, network, storage, and management software vendors focusing on promoting their own products, which address only piece parts of the solution.   While all vendors pay a lip service to the standards by promptly including them in their roadmaps, they have not helped in reducing the complexity in inter-operability management.  In POTS, PANS and SAN implementations, we repeatedly learnt that the end-to-end Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is not optimized by optimizing the Cost of Ownership of piece parts independently. This is what Total Quality Management was trying to teach us.

Japanese management should know this better because of their preserved institutional memory of the lessons learnt from the evolution of POTS, PANS and SANs.   Server, network, storage, telecommunications and software expertise is preserved in the Japanese institutions.  On the other hand, in the US, the dismantling of large R&D labs such as the Bell Labs, reduced government R&D, the demise of companies like US WEST and SUN, and the emphasis on startups to create innovation (with the disadvantage of starting from scratch with limited individual knowledge that the new teams bring) have all contributed the duplication, complexity and increased cost of current IT data centers.  Youth, inexperience, quest for quick profits from investors, loss of long-lasting institutional knowledge dismantled by unbridled free-market forces and a culture of making dust without concern on its impact on the universe, limit the current American Management, who depend solely on the culture of individualism, to benefit from the lessons of the collective past.  As the master said, those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it [7].  US WEST later was acquired by a long-distance service provider Qwest whose CEO ended up in Jail.  All the institutional knowledge and the investment in innovation went to waste.  It is unfortunate that the rest of the world has to live with the consequences based on the decisions of a few that control money and decision-making. It is unfortunate that the innovation and hard work of many that bring out the best of American individualism is squandered by the decisions of a few paying attention to mostly self-serving short-term interests.

As Professor Ballon [8], pointed out in my class on current issues in Japanese management twenty years ago, waste, duplication and occasional mismanagement are of no visible consequence in a culture that promotes individualism when the resources are abundant.  When the resources start becoming less and less abundant, the group as a whole cannot afford increased entropy.  Similarly, in a collective culture, as resources start becoming more and more abundant, the group can afford a little waste, redundancy and individualism to foster innovation.  Groups usually decide where they stand in this spectrum of possibilities from unbridled individualism to stifling collectivity and adjust to optimize their chances of success both as an individual and as a group.  Success seems to lie in the middle.

The Fujitsu management, I knew, twenty years ago had a long-term vision to build global relationships and develop co-prosperity.  Dodo San twenty years ago, on a winter night, over another bottle of warm sake from Akita, told me that business is like sailing.  “Current wind speed is not your main concern.  You carefully watch for the rate of change of wind speed and direction.  You anticipate the future based on your observations at the present moment with intense focus to make your decisions and act.”  I do not know sailing, but what he said made a lasting impression just as the Zen master hitting the bull’s eye did.  Is the current Fujitsu management watching the rate of change and making its goals such as selling 500,000 servers anticipating the future?  Has the Japanese management learnt from their misses of the past?  This is the subject of my current study and I would like any one with appropriate insights to participate.

References Used

[1] Jackson S Morisawa, “The Secret of the Target”, Rutledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1988, p35

[2] Yamada Shõji, “The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2001 28/1–2

[3] Lama Surya Das, “Mind is Mightier than the Sword: Enlightening the mind, and Opening the Heart, Doubleday Religion, 2009, p 168

[4] Rao Mikkilineni, Greg Pugmire, “The Connection Between Profit and Services in the Next Generation Network”, Annual Review of Communications, volume 54, 2001, p 521




[8]  Robert J. Ballon, “Human Resource Management in Japan”, Issue 23 (Vol. 12, No. 1), June 2002, pp. 5-20.  Robert Ballon is a professor Emeritus in Sophia University, Tokyo.  He has written many articles and books on Japanese management, role of individualism and collectivism in business management.  His lectures inspired me to write my thesis under his guidance in 1990 titled “Current Issues in Japanese Management – “Is Japanese Software Thrust As Powerful As Their Hardware Thrust?”

[9] Kenneth Kushner, “One Arrow, One Life: Zen, Archery, Enlightenment”. Tuttle Publishing, 2000

[10] E. Herrigel, “Zen in the Art of Archery” New York, Pantheon, 1971”, Routledge & Paul Keagan Inc., New York, 1988.


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