Why complexity is the next killer app

One question I'm asked fairly often is: what's the next killer app? The concept of the killer app has a powerful hold on our collective psychology. We want to believe that the entire market can be propelled forward by the next must-have technology that spawns a new generation of industry leaders and reshapes our lives. The spreadsheet, LANs, mobile phones, e-mail, the Web and so on. Absent the next killer app, the market stagnates.

There's some truth to all this. PC sales were accelerated by the emergence of VisiCalc and 1-2-3. E-mail was a key driver in Internet adoption. But the role of the killer app also has been over-dramatized. No single product or technology moves a $US1 trillion global marketplace buffeted by myriad macro- and micro-economic forces.

Sadly, like most people, I'm lousy at recognizing a killer app until well after it has proved its killer qualities. On occasion, I've thought a particular technology was a killer -- can you say ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)? -- only to watch it die a slow, painful death.

But today it dawned on me that there is a real killer app. It's called complexity.

That's a little play on words, actually.

You see, complexity is a killer of applications. We've built highly complex, fault-prone IT environments that cost more and more just to maintain each year. This complexity robs money that could be directed toward new applications that move our businesses forward. Complexity has made it more difficult for IT shops to embrace new technologies and new ideas. It's killing growth opportunities.

But complexity itself also represents a vast growth opportunity, and billions will be made helping users deal with it. It's a true killer app.

At the highest level, companies such as IBM are cashing in on concepts like on-demand or utility computing that promise to transform how we build and use infrastructure. At a point-product level, companies such as Egenera (blade servers) and VMware (server virtualization) are profiting from helping companies simplify certain facets of IT. Newly minted companies like Azul Systems (network-attached processing) and Cassatt (infrastructure virtualization) are being built on the mission of reducing complexity.

Complexity isn't sexy, and it isn't as much fun to talk about as the Web or IPTV. But if you're asking about the "next big thing", reducing complexity is the best answer I can think of.

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