What are the unanticipated consequences of Cloud Computing- Part I

Maybe I am just obsessed with cloud computing these days. I guess that after spending more than 18 months researching the topic for our forthcoming book, Cloud Computing for Dummies, cloud_streetsI can be excused for my obsession.  Now that I am able to take a step back from the noise of the market, I have been thinking about what this will mean in the next ten years. Consequences of technology adoption are never what we expect. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s no one could imagine why anyone would want a personal computer. In fact, the only application people could imagine for a PC was a way to store recipes (I am not making this up). Keep in mind that this was before the first PC-based spreadsheet was designed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Franston(That’s them in the picture)bricklinfrankston . No one in those days could have predicted that everyone from a CEO to a three year old child would own a personal computer and its use would change the way we conduct business.  (I never did find a recipe storing application).

The same logic can be applied to the Internet. While the Internet has been used 40 years ago by researchers, it was not a commercially viable option until the mid-1990s. In the early days of the Internet it was a sophisticated communications technology with a command line interface. Once the browser came along, businesses tended to use it to share price lists, marketing materials, and job postings. There were certainly message boards but only for the real techies. There were environments such as The Well which was the first online community used primarily by academics and wild-eyed researchers.

In that context, I was thinking about what we might expect to happen with cloud computing? There is a lot to say, so I decided to break this into two parts — each one will have three consequences. Here are today’s top three:

1. Cloud computing will begin to change the way we think of an application. To be truly useful to large groups of individuals and businesses requires economies of scale in terms of massively scaled workloads. The only way to accomplish this is either to cherry pick a few big workloads (like email) or to branch out. That branching out is inevitable and will mean that vendors with cloud offerings with componentize their software offerings into modular services that can be mixed and matched with other services.

2. The prices that vendors will charge for cloud computing services will drop dramatically over the next few years. As prices drop it will become a lot more economically viable to substitute on premise environment for the cloud environment. Today this is not the case; large companies supporting thousands of users in an application environment cannot justify the movement to a cloud platform. What if the costs drop to the point where the economics (with the right workloads) favor cloud based services? When this happens there will be a tipping point that we might not even notice for a few years. But I predict that it will happen. We are already seeing Amazon dropping prices for its EC2 environment based on the competitive threat from Microsoft Azure services announcement.

3. The cloud will change the way we manage data. The traditional way we think about data neatly stored in specific databases to handle a specific business problem will inevitably change.  This won’t be an overnight change but it will happen. Data will increasingly be seen as a reusable resource that can be used in lots of different situations. There will continue to be strategic line of business applications but they will be more systems of record that keep track of the final result of actions that take place dynamically in the cloud. The value of data is not in its tight packaging as we have been used to for decades but it the flexibility to move, transform, and leverage data. The watch word for data in this new model will be Trusted Data in the Cloud.

I would love to know what you think of my top three choices; send me your comments and I will add them to my list for tomorrow.

As we deal with the cloud hype it is too easy to be dismissive and cynical. But we always treat complicated new trends that way — until one day they become the normal way of business and life.

  1. October 28, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    The greatest consequences are always the unintended ones.

    “Cloud computing” is not the huge new market ripe for exploit that so many believe it to be. It is instead a new way to view and manage the relationship between hardware and software, abstracting the latter from the former, and deploying computation on a datacenter, rather than per-CPU scale.

    Once software is abstracted from underlying hardware many factors of the market will change, but not in the ways the pundits of today imagine. Today’s “cloud computing” startups may become nothing more than the Geocities or Vermeers of the future.

    –chuck

    • October 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm

      You are right that Cloud computing as an approach isn’t new; just like the Internet wasn’t new 10 years ago. However, when you put the right pieces together with the right levels of abstraction things happen that no one expects.

  1. October 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm
  2. March 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

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