Lighting the bulb of creativity: Embracing the power of experimentation in the cloud

In a converted house in Menlo Park, NJ, a man was trying to invent a new technology that would revolutionize safety and convenience for the masses.  It was not going well...many lesser people had given up.   The inventor had tried over 1,200 prototypes to create his potential game changer...something so important that it would affect the life of every human being from then on.  He had been told by many to let it go, that it wasn't possible…He believed they were wrong and had spent the modern equivalent of $850k out of his own pocket and sacrificed a significant portion of his home to prove it.

After over 6,000 different combinations, the inventor tried baking cotton threads at high temperatures carbonizing them and on October 29, 1879, Thomas Edison watched electricity glow across a filament held in a vacuum bulb, creating the world's first light bulb.

This is not that story.  This is the story of the place the light bulb was invented: Thomas Edison's innovation factory, in Menlo Park, NJ.

Creating Success

When you look at the success of the innovation factory, it was tied to three key goals:

1.      Learn more from your failures than your successes: Edison once said,  "I never quit until I get what I'm after. Negative results are just what I'm after. They are just as valuable tome as positive results."

2.      Governance is key: As Edison grew the innovation factory, he took on several researchers and interns he called "Muckers."  But Muckers were required to take proposals to Edison where he would approve the ones he felt were sound and redirect ones with flaws.

3.      Always have multiple projects underway and follow the creativity.  The innovation factory developed over 400 patents including:  The Carbon button transmitter(now known as the microphone), the incandescent light bulb, the first underground electrical system, a prototype electric railway, and the design for the first lighted electrical street.

As I was learning about the "Wizard of Menlo Park," I realized that Edison had captured the essence of one of the most underrated and least understood benefits for the public cloud…the power of experimentation.  For companies and teams who are thinking"cloud-native," there is a fundamental culture shift that takes place…

"Are you sure it's perfect?" becomes "Let see…"

 This is game changing.  In traditional IT, the cycle of planning could take years to:

·        Develop requirements

·        Build a detailed plan

·        Develop and peer review a reference architecture

·        Put forth a capital budget and go through the approval process

·        Develop detailed test plan

·        Assign a team to perform the test plan

·        Develop a transition path for the capital infrastructure once the test is complete.

Why bother?  

In a cloud native culture, a focus on innovation simplifies the process and allows a test to be developed and run in days, at a fraction of the cost.

There are many case studies, but I'll focus on a media company that wanted to test anew infrastructure as code capability and its ability to scale up massively for specific events.  They developed the code, deployed a test environment in AWS, put the measurement framework and test plans in place and performed the test for 5 minutes.  During those 5 minutes, they spun up 3,000+instances across three different regions with elastic load balancing and Route 53 supporting connectivity.  After 5 minutes, they tore the environment down, analyzed the results, identified a few areas of improvement and implemented the code changes in 2 days.

The total cost of the test was approximately $300.

The Public cloud creates an ability to rapidly and inexpensively innovate, supported by an environment that encourages creativity and agility.  When pared with strong governance, any company can unlock the power of experimentation and make it available to those who have the passion and commitment.

Could you be the next Edison?