Archive for 2009

Cloud Computing: Doubts Yield to Sunny Forecast

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I recently attended a webinar given by several cloud computing vendors and thought I might jot down a few observations.

As described in Simon Wardley’s clever OSCON 2009 keynote, “Cloud computing is a generic term to describe the disruptive transformation in IT towards a service-based economy, driven by a set of economic, cultural and technological conditions.”  (An NIST definition provides more details.)

Cloud computing services are becoming more widely adopted in the marketplace.   Indeed, a few charts from the webinar graphically portray the scalability-cost benefits of clouds vs.  on-premises.  (The charts also include “quick polls” of the webinar audience regarding their anticipated: cloud use, data barriers and application barriers.)

Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud  (Amazon EC2) continues to be  a market leader, however there are numerous vendors vying for attention.  Vendors typically focus on a specific layer of the cloud “as a service” (“_aaS”):

Judith Hurwitz further segments the PaaS layer as:

Services such as Rightscale, focus on management of application deployment to clouds in a manner which decreases effort/cost, and which also prevents lock-in to a particular cloud vendor’s proprietary formats.  Indeed, there is a broad effort afoot (sometimes called the intercloud) to increase interoperability among cloud vendors.

Some publications (such as this McKinsey report) have questioned cloud computing’s proposed economic value.  However, many others (such as  TechCrunch, and  RightScale) have countered with pro-cloud perspectives.  One of McKinsey’s themes asserted that cloud computing was vastly over-hyped.   However, such hype is typical of the lifecycle of any new technology, as depicted by the “Gartner Hype Cycle.”   Indeed, Gartner’s 2008 hype cycle depicted cloud computing as rapidly heading towards the “peak of inflated expectations.”   That dubious distinction notwithstanding, cloud computing is here to stay.

Not surprisingly, when I attended the 2009 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, cloud computing was a key topic.  Irving Wladawsky-Berger (a brilliant ex-IBM’er and conference panelist with whom I chatted briefly) re-capped some of the cloud discussions in his blog entry.   He confirms many of the cloud benefits (virtualization, shared infrastructures, highly disciplined systems management, flexible deployment and scalability) but posits that “Pretty much everyone agreed that cloud computing should not be used for mission critical applications, or applications involving sensitive information.”

Au contraire! Although several of Irving’s co-panelists gave those depictions, quite a few of the forward-thinkers in the audience felt that the panelists may have missed the mark on those comments.    Nonetheless, the panelists agreed that bursty applications and new projects will be attractive candidates for the cloud.  (Indeed, many of us know of numerous new applications whose business are extremely reliant on the cloud, such as  AnimotoSonian, ShareThis and many others.)

In addition to affecting IT/business decision-makers, cloud computing has (obvious) implications for end-user-application vendors, many of whom are re-thinking their go-to-market strategies.  These on-premise software vendors are evaluating if (or when) their portfolio should move to SaaS/cloud models.   Although the migration may not be easy (as evidenced by the SaaS migration checklist from Ariba’s CEO), some market changes are undeniable.  (Indeed, some say 2009 is the tipping point re: SaaS migrations.)

Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim lists several key benefits for  application vendors to embrace cloud computing:

  • Easier to reach new customers
  • Lowest cost way of delivering and supporting applications
  • Ability to use commodity server and storage hardware
  • Ability to drive down data center operational cots

Peter Cohen, et. al, indicate additional cloud / SaaS benefits:

  • Greater flexibility to meet fluctuating demand (particularly for applications that have high peaks in usage followed by relative quiet)
  • Better access to the application for remote workers
  • Lower risk of a failed or delayed deployment
  • Instant access to the latest product enhancements, and assurance that all users are on the same version
  • Faster rollout

Of course, cloud computing is also a hot topic on college campuses, ranging from Stanford to MIT to small colleges like Marion College.

At the 2009 Cloud Camp Boston un-conference, some attendees suggested that backup and data storage were the bulk of today’s cloud services spending. However,  IDC projected that applications will be 52% of cloud spending by 2012.  IDC estimates that worldwide spending on cloud services was $16B in 2008, surging to $42B in 2012; growing at six times the rate of the “traditional” IT market.  Gartner pegs worldwide cloud services revenue at $46B in 2008, $56B in 2009, and $150B in 2013.

Cloud computing will continue to grow, benefitting users, IT organizations and application vendors.

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