30 (15 and 7) Year Technology Cycles


We all have heard the 7 year itch. Have you ever asked why its 7? Why it is not  10 or 4. Looking back,  I have had those 7 year itches.

Have you had the urge to leave your job or change your role significantly around 15 years? Think about this  very carefully or ask around!! I left my first job after 16 years

What about 30 years. Perhaps time to retire. Or seek a completely new profession?

Now lets look at businesses. Lets review two examples.

  1. Apple: From 1997 to 2007 – it was the Apple IIe.  7 years after founding, 1984 (MAC). 7 years later (1991 – Powerbook).  7 years later (Steve is back with iMAC). 30 years since founding (iPhone). New product, New Business model. Apple re-invented. (http://applemuseum.bott.org/sections/history.html)
  2. Sun: 1982-1989 – Motorola + BSD Unix. 1989-1996 – Solaris and SPARC. 1996-UltraSPARC 1 and Java. 2009 (27 years), acquired by Oracle.  http://devtome.com/doku.php?id=timeline_of_sun_microsystems_history

Why 7? Why 15?  Why 30? The 7 year itch feeds into the 15 year peak which feeds into 30 year retire/re-invention cycle. Since businesses are made of people, especially in the technology sector, business cycles have the same 7, 15 and 30 year cycles.  At 7, one becomes proficient in a domain (10,000+ hours) and change is in the air. At 15, you feel like you reach a peak. At 30 you become obsolete (retire) or re-invent.

At the core of these 30 year transitions, the DNA has to be relevant or one ‘retires’. The biological DNA that define our value proposition, businesses  do as well. Apple has the core DNA of designing eye candy products (materials +  UI). This has transcended to the desktop to the mobile.  IBM has the DNA of general computing business. That has unchanged over decades.  Sun had the DNA of Open-source and open systems. Intel has the core DNA of device engineering and manufacturing (Moore’s law).

The similarity has to do with human productive cycles. While this assertion is not statistically accurate, but there is enough data to suggest why there is a linkage between business cycles and human productivity cycles.

First lets visit some 30 year cycles…In most cases the business model changes – not just technology. Usually the incumbent sees the technology shift and can handle it. But they fail to see or react to the business model change.


  1. IBM: Strangely IBM has revived itself every 30 years. There was mainframe from 1950s to 1980s. Then there was PC and Global Services from 1980s to 2010s. Now its on a re-invention cycle with Watson and Enterprise Cloud. IBM has done this over its 100 year history repeatedly and perhaps the only one. But its facing that issue once more…Time will tell…
  2. Apple: From 1997 to 2007 – it was the Apple IIe.  7 years after founding, 1984 (MAC). 7 years later (1991 – Powerbook).  7 years later (Steve is back with iMAC). 30 years since founding (iPhone). New product, New Business model. But same DNA. 1992 was a critical year as we all know. 2014 is 7 years after the first iPhone. Another change cycle? The smartness with Apple was the move from shrink wrapped software to Appstore. New business model. Fantastic!  The iPhone which is 10 years old will reach its peak the next few years.  Apple will have to have its next big act before 2021 ?
  3. HP: Another survivor has gone through two  30 year cycles and in the middle of the 3rd. Remains to be seen how it will evolve


  1. Sun: My Alma mater. Started in 1992 and dies or got gobbled up in 2010. Perhaps lives inside Oracle – not really. Again 28 years and died. Founding DNA = Opensource + Interactivity and big memory. Lost its way when Linux took over (Opensource – around 1998 – 15 year!!!). 
  2. DEC: 1957-1987; VAX9000 remember. That was the beginning of 30 year run. Got gobbled up and could not handle the next business transition
  3. Many other companies fall into this category (SGI…..)
  1. Cisco: 1984-2014 (30 years). The networking category is being challenged in a similar way VMware came and altered the server market with Xeon. Commodity switches + SW. Other problems. Good news for Cisco in that it has lots of cash. Needs to find new growth categories that are significant. They are trying with a new CEO and moving upstream.
  2. Intel: Intel got out of the DRAM business in 1984. Now its facing challenges in its core having missed the whole handheld and tablet market. Again another 30 year transition cycle for Intel 
  3. Microsoft: 1997-2007. Windows Vista, Windows 7 Windows 8 – not a growth engine. Missed the phone. Failed to grasp the new business model. With a change in CEO and now the shift to the cloud, albeit late, but seems to have made or making the transition. Its a work-in-progress.
  4. Oracle: The 30 year old database market has run its course. The shift to in-memory and more importantly the shift to the cloud (AWS/Aurora and Google/Spanner) combined with the sedimentation of the plumbing layer (how many database companies are out there). The challenge for Oracle is not technology (which it can by acquiring the next viable business). The shift is in the move of the enterprise from licensed software to the cloud model. 
There is a pattern in this 30 year cycle. Typically a technology and a business model shift occurs and the companies. As you can see very few have done the 30 year transition. If you look deeper there seems to be a 15 year sub cycle and a 7 year sub cycle.
Guess what Google is past the 15 year cycle. Amazon founded in 1994, had its second act starting around 2008 (AWS).
1980s  was the golden era for  many tech companies
–Computing (Intel, Sun, Apple, Dell…)
–Networking (Cisco, 3COM)
–Storage (EMC, Netapp later)
Common Theme: Business model of selling integrated systems (OEM model)
30 years later that model has turned upside down… We are into the the next 30 year cycle with the cloud.
I touched upon this topic in one of the UC Berkely (2014) Aspire retreat(s). An image of a handwritten slide is shown below.  This time like in 1984, when DRAM gave way to logic (Intel), new memory technology will drive the new technology stack and thus new business opportunities. Maybe or atleast hopeful of it. This will be the topic for the next post…
Meanwhile  – what comes after 7 15 30 ?
Coming back to 30 year technology cycles and individuals – is there a link?
Like to hear more about it from others..

Author: renuraman

Always connecting the dots....

1 thought on “30 (15 and 7) Year Technology Cycles”

  1. Nice article Renu! I was at several of the 7 year cycles at Cisco, HP, Brocade and EMC. I think the AI/ML and real time analytics will bring in new set of leaders and new cloud infrastructure as well and shape up the next cycle which is already begun.


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