I spent a lot of time today thinking about technology ecosystems and its cousin cloud ecosystems and just what the ecosystem concept meant. This wasn’t idle contemplation in between naps while watching football trying to recover from Thanksgiving. No, I was thinking about the meaning of technology ecosystems while taking advantage of the warm day to do some final seed collecting and cleaning so I will be ready for spring planting. Allow me to explain.
One of my hobbies is habitat restoration where I mostly focus on prairies. I have some restored prairies on my place here in western Wisconsin along with several plots of prairies plants I use for seed stock and transplants.
Today, I spent a fair amount of time processing the seeds from the Compass Plant. The compass plant is one of my favorite prairie plants because it has very large lobed leaves that align themselves North-South acting as a compass for Native Americans and early settlers in the tall grass prairies.
From the pictures of the compass plants above you might see what I am referring to. What you can’t tell from the photo is these plants are over 10 feet tall with roots at least that deep and the live for nearly 100 years playing an important role in the prairie ecosystem.
A prairie ecosystem is a complex combination of biology and structures having an amazing interdependence. The prairie ecosystem relies heavily on soils and plants but also on pollinators and disturbances by animals creating an cyclical disruptive equilibrium. Another interesting characteristic is the symbiotic relationship of companion plant pairs and that of certain plants like the wild lupine and the karner blue butterfly.
When I think of technology ecosystems, the ecosystem concept frames an idea of a complex combination of systems, software and structures which also has dependencies and disruptions. Using the ecosystem concept to describe technology is fairly new and most often it is used for cloud ecosystems. Some object saying ecosystems is being misapplied since technology and cloud computing are not living systems.
Surprisingly I am actually OK with people referring to cloud ecosystems and technology ecosystems. I think it provides a very useful construct. By referring to our enterprise architectures including extended cloud architectures as ecosystems I think it helps us consider the quasi-organic nature of the system as a whole.
The ecosystem concept helps us have deeper discussions about companion technologies and ideas like preserving the equilibrium by using native technologies while taking precautions with any non-natives so they do not become ‘invasive species’.
Technology ecosystems also opens the door to a more direct conversation about technology sustainability where the two concepts transfer perfectly with no loss in the metaphors.
When you decide to practice sustainable landscaping and habitat restoration you learn there is no such thing as a quick win. It’s not like buying flats of annuals every spring from the garden center for a quick pop of color from flowers that won’t feed a honey bee or survive a late frost.
When you plant a compass plant seed that is no larger than a third of a corn flake you are making a commitment to grow something that will last, survive droughts, hungry deer, and even a fire. You know it won’t flower for at least two years, perhaps even taking 3 or 4.
And so goes the commitment needed to create sustainable technology ecosystems and cloud ecosystems. And although I will say there are really no quick wins when it comes to building an ecosystem, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for throw away solutions in your strategy. After all a prairie restoration usually includes planting a nurse crop of annual rye grass to help the new plants that first year and keep the weeds out.
So I hope you find some time to also consider the ecosystem concept yourself. Maybe if you can think of your current technology plan and application roadmap from a perspective of a prairie ecosystem and the importance of having equilibrium and a way for things to rebalance following a disturbance.
I hope you can also give some consideration to the sustainability of the entire system and the support functions needed to maintain it. And to the extend that includes cloud ecosystems I hope you remember to consider the providers as a part of ecosystem.