Forget razors and blades, APIs are the new gotcha

Machines nickel-and-diming other machines

Sysadmin Blog I've always hated the "razor and blades" business model. It pops up everywhere in our society, and is becoming ever more popular in IT. There is enough crossover with subscription models that it's hard to tell where one business model stops and the other begins. Regardless of the nuances, "razor and blades" is nothing but a tax on the poor.

Where I really notice this model impacting IT is networking. Thanks to the rise of merchant silicon, switches can be built cheaply. Despite the best efforts of companies like Cisco to keep margins high, incumbent vendors have been subject to the worst of all possible outcomes: competition.

Prices dropped, and margins dropped too. What are the poor megacorporates to do? Nickel-and-dime you with cables, that's what.

Name-brand (read: officially supported) cables and fibre optic transceivers are egregiously expensive. A quick look at Fiberstore shows the Chinese can stamp these things out for 10 times less than the branded accessories and still make a profit. This could be bad news for networking vendors, and we risk them choosing the "printer and ink" model to compensate.

Kicking it up a notch

The razor and blades model is to sell something cheap that needs accessories, and ding the customer on the accessories. Bonus points if you can keep them buying the accessories forever. The printer and ink model is the same thing, but where you add the layer of being an international douchecanoe.

The traditional printers and ink model is to not only sell the printer for cheap and ding them on the ink, but to chip the whole ecosystem so as to prevent competitors from selling cheap ink cartridges. Printers and ink usually involves a cat-and-mouse game of technological innovation versus reverse engineering until you get big enough to start bludgeoning your competitors relentlessly in court until you get your way.

The endgame of the printer and ink model is to bribe enough politicians that you can make it illegal to clone your pricey accessories via international treaty. This way you can bypass the domestic laws of multiple countries in a single go.

The latest version of this is APIs.

Pay to play

Technocrats are obsessed with rental. It isn't hard to find some gaggle of buffoons praising Uber, Airbnb and Jibbers knows what else as the inevitable future. We'll own nothing and rent or subscribe to all we need.

Pardon my American, but that's fucking crackers.

Real people have hard times. Owning things lets a person sweat their assets to make it through the hard times. Predictable costs help here too. Mortgages, for example, generally aren't subject to 22 per cent hikes (we'll put people who opt for variable rate mortgages in a different box). But with the technocratic dream of "surge pricing," now you too can experience the fun of not knowing if you have a place to sleep tomorrow!

This concept is spreading. Cloud computing giants are no longer content to rent you predictable VMs. That's cheap and easy. Now we have serverless, and those cloud-computing vendors are going to charge you per API call.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, the cloud providers will build the infrastructure for free, but the razors ink API calls are going to cost you. Forever. And if you think our collective appetite for storage capacity is insatiable, just wait until you see what our appetite for APIs is like once the Internet of Lawnmowers really takes off.

The future is now, and I fear that our wallets will soon long for the days when the conundrum of the day was paying extortionate prices for hard drives versus ponying up for another punitively expensive year of support. ®

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