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Can IBM Build a Strong Cloud Partner Ecosystem?

May 4, 2011 1 comment

Despite all of the hand wringing surrounding Amazon.com’s service outages last week, it is clear to me that cloud computing is dramatically changing the delivery models of computing forever. We simply will not return to a model where organizations assume that they will consume primarily their own data center resources.  The traditional data center certainly isn’t going away but its role and its underlying technology will change forever.  One of the ramifications of this transition is the role of cloud infrastructure leaders in determining the direction of the partnership models.

Traditionally, System vendors have relied on partners to expand the coverage of their platforms. With the cloud, the requirement to have a strong partner ecosystem will not change. If anything, partners will be even more important in the cloud than they have been in traditional computing delivery models.  This is because with cloud computing, the barriers to leveraging different cloud-based software offerings – platform as a service and Software as a Service are very low. Any employee with a credit card can try out just about anything.  I think that the Amazon.com issues will be seen in the future as a tipping point for cloud computing. It, in fact, will not be the end to cloud but it will change the way companies view the way they select cloud partners.  Service management, scalability, and reliability will become the selection standard – not just for the end customer but for partners as well.

So, I was thinking about the cloud partnership model and how it is evolving. I expect that the major systems vendors will be in a perfect position to begin to reassert their power in the era of the cloud.  So, I decided to take a look at how IBM is approaching its partnership model in light of cloud computing.  Over the past several months, IBM has been revealing a new partnership model for the cloud computing market.  It has been difficult for most platform vendors to get noticed above the noise of cloud pioneers like Amazon and Google.  But this is starting to change.  It is not hard to figure out why.  IBM believes that cloud is a $181 billion business opportunity and it would like to grab a chunk of that opportunity.

Having followed IBM’s partnering initiatives for several decades I was not surprised to see a revamped cloud partnering program emerge this year. The new program is interesting for several different reasons.  First, it is focused on bringing together all of IBM’s cloud offerings across software, developer relations, hardware, and services into a single program.  This is important because it can be intimidating for an ISV, a Value Added Reseller, or a systems integrator to navigate the complexity of IBM’s offerings without some assistance.  In addition, IBM has to contend with a new breed of partners that are focused on public, private, and hybrid cloud offerings.

The new program is called the Cloud Specialty program and targeted to cover the entire cloud ecosystem including cloud builders (hardware and software resellers and systems integrators), Service Solution Providers (software and service resellers), Infrastructure Providers (telecom providers, hosting companies, Managed Service Providers, and distributors), Application Providers (ISVs and systems integrators), and Technology Providers (tools providers, and appliance vendors).

The focus of the cloud specialty program is not different than other partnering programs at IBM. It is focused on issues such as expanding the skills of partners, building revenue for both IBM and partners, and providing go to market programs to support its partners.  IBM is the first to admit that the complexity of the company and its offerings can be intimidating for partners.  Therefore, one of the objectives of the cloud specialty program is to clarify the requirements and benefits for partners. IBM is creating a tiered program based on the different types of cloud partners.  The level of partner investment and benefits differ based on the value of the type of partner and the expectation of those partners.  But there are some common offerings for all partners. All get early access to IBM’s cloud roadmap, use of the Partnerworld Cloud Specialty Mark, confidential updates on IBM’s cloud strategy and roadmap, internal use of LotusLive, networking opportunities. In addition, all these partners are entitled to up to $25,000 in business development funds.   There are some differences.  They include:

  • Cloud builders gain access to business leads, and access to IBM’s lab resources. In exchange these partners are expected to have IBM Cloud Reference architecture skills as well as cloud solutions provider and technical certification. They must also demonstrate ability to generate revenue. Revenue amounts vary based on the mix of hardware, software, and services that they resell.  They must also have two verified cloud references for the previous calendar year.
  • Service Solution Providers are provided with a named relationship manager and access to networking opportunities. In exchange, partners are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, demonstrate knowledge and skills in use of IBM cloud offerings, and the ability to generate $300,000 in revenue from the partnership.
  • Infrastructure Providers are given access to named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. In exchange, these partners are expected to use IBM’s cloud infrastructure products or services, demonstrate skills in IBM technology. Like service solution providers they must use and skills in IBM cloud offerings, have at least $300,000 a year in client references based on two cloud client references
  • Application Providers are given access to a named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. They are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, have skills in these technologies or services, and a minimum of $100,000 a year in revenue plus two cloud client references.
  • Technology Providers get access to networking opportunites, and IBM’s cloud and services assessment tools.  In exchange, these partners are required to demonstrate knowledge of IBM Cloud Reference architecture, have skills related to IBM’s cloud services. Like application providers, these partners must have at least $100,000 in IBM revenue and two client references.

What does IBM want? IBM’s goals with the cloud specialty program is to make it as attractive as possible for prospective partners to chose its platform. It is hoping that by offering financial and technical incentives that it can make inroads with cloud focused companies. For example, it is openings its labs and providing assistance to help partners define their offerings. IBM is also taking the unusual step of allowing partners to white label its products.  On the business development side, IBM is teaming with business partners on calls with prospective customers.  IBM anticipates that the impact on these partners could be significant – potentially generating as much as 30% gross margin growth.

Will the effort work? It is indeed an ambitious program. IBM will have to do a good job in explaining its huge portfolio of offerings to the prospective partners. For example, it has a range of services including CastIron for cloud integration, analytics services, collaboration services (based on LotusLive), middleware services, and Tivoli service management offerings.  In addition, IBM is encouraging partners to leverage its  extensive security services offerings.  It is also trying to encourage partners to leverage its hardware systems. One example of how IBM is trying to be more attractive to cloud-based companies like Software as a Service vendors to to price offerings attractively. Therefore, it is offering a subscription-based model for partners so that they can pay based on usage – the common model for most cloud platform vendors.

IBM is on the right track with this cloud focused partner initiative.  It is a sweeping program that is focused on provides a broad set of benefits for partners. It is pricing its services so that ISVs can rent a service (including IBM’s test and development cloud) by the month — an important issue in this emerging market.  It is also expecting partners to make a major investment in learning IBM’s software, hardware, and services offerings. It is also expecting partners to expand their knowledge of the markets they focus on.

Lotus redux: a transformation in process

February 3, 2011 1 comment

I have attended Lotusphere for many years so it is very interesting to watch the transition. When Lotus Notes was first introduced in the late 1980s, it was a seminal moment in the evolution of collaborative computing. During those first few years, Lotus was able to establish a rich ecosystem of partners and really define the market for collaborative computing — before the general market even had time to think about the necessity for such a platform.  But a lot has changed.  Fast forward to 2011.  Today the ideas of collaboration platforms is now the norm. Individuals, virtual teams, and big corporations depend on collaboration platforms to get business done. For many years it was clear that Microsoft with its office franchise and SharePoint had captured the market. However, with the advent of cloud computing and Google’s push into Google Apps that the market dynamics were changing. Now, add social networking on top of that with services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and the world gets a lot more interesting.

So, what does this have to do with Lotus? Actually a lot.  Companies that I have been talking to are frantically looking for ways to combine the spontaneity of social networking platforms with structured collaboration with customers, partners, and prospects. They are looking for new ways to expand their business flexibility and opportunities. This is where Lotus has an interesting opportunity. Lotus has traditionally sold Notes and Domino to the high end of the Mid-market and the enterprise market primarily as a communications platform — i.e. electronic mail.  That is what the typical user sees. But under that interface is complex applications that capture a lot of company intellectual property.  Over time, IBM has added a lot of sophisticated offerings for collaboration such as Quickr and Connections. Now add LotusLive, IBM’s cloud collaboration platform into the mix and things get interesting.  In addition to this new generation platform that brings together the traditional Notes environment with more dynamic collaboration and cloud computing, IBM is enabling analytics on the platform with tools from Cognos.

At the same time, IBM is being realistic this time around. It knows that it cannot displace Microsoft Sharepoint so it is enabling customers to make Sharepoint a component in an IBM driven collaboration environment. Likewise, it is allowing integration with various wireless smartphone environments as well.

But if I were to put a bet on one product that I think will have the greatest potential to bring IBM into the mainstream of social networking — or more specifically social business is LotusLive.  LotusLive in combination with the underlying sophistication of the Notes and Domino platforms, productivity solutions (Symphony), and partnerships and linkages with third party SaaS platforms will drive IBM’s place in the collaboration market.

IBM clearly has challenges getting existing customers comfortable with change and helping them to move their valuable assets to the new world.  But the components are in place. There are also important innovations coming out of the labs that will propel the environment forward.  IBM will have to gather a lot more partners and more adoption from customers who aren’t currently customers. But the opportunity is waiting.

Predictions for 2011: getting ready to compete in real time

December 1, 2010 3 comments

2010 was a transition year for the tech sector. It was the year when cloud suddenly began to look realistic to the large companies that had scorned it. It was the year when social media suddenly became serious business. And it was the year when hardware and software were being united as a platform – something like in the old mainframe days – but different because of high-level interfaces and modularity. There were also important trends starting to emerge like the important of managing information across both the enterprise and among partners and suppliers. Competition for ownership of the enterprise software ecosystem headed up as did the leadership of the emerging cloud computing ecosystem.

So, what do I predict for this coming year? While at the outset it might look like 2011 will be a continuation of what has been happening this year, I think there will be some important changes that will impact the world of enterprise software for the rest of the decade.

First, I think it is going to be a very big year for acquisitions. Now I have said that before and I will say it again. The software market is consolidating around major players that need to fill out their software infrastructure in order to compete. It will come as no surprise if HP begins to purchase software companies if it intends to compete with IBM and Oracle on the software front.  But IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft will not sit still either.  All these companies will purchase the incremental technology companies they need to compete and expand their share of wallet with their customers.

This will be a transitional year for the up and coming players like Google, Amazon, Netflix, Salesforce.com, and others that haven’t hit the radar yet.  These companies are plotting their own strategies to gain leadership. These companies will continue to push the boundaries in search of dominance.  As they push up market as they grab market share, they will face the familiar problem of being able to support customers who will expect them to act like adults.

Customer support, in fact, will bubble to the top of the issues for emerging as well as established companies in the enterprise space – especially as cloud computing becomes a well-established distribution and delivery platform for computing.  All these companies, whether well established or startups will have to balance the requirements to provide sophisticated customer support with the need to make profit.  This will impact everything from license and maintenance revenue to how companies will charge for consulting and support services.

But what are customers be looking for in 2011? Customers are always looking to reduce their IT expenses – that is a given. However, the major change in 2011 will be the need to innovative based on customer facing initiatives.  Of course, the idea of focusing on customer facing software itself isn’t new there are some subtle changes.  The new initiatives are based on leveraging social networking from a secure perspective to both drive business traffic, anticipate customer needs and issues before they become issues.  Companies will spend money innovating on customer relationships.

Cloud Computing is the other issue in 2011. While it was clearly a major differentiator in 2010, the cloud will take an important leap forward in 2011.  While companies were testing the water this year, next year, companies will be looking at best practices in cloud computing.  2011 will be there year where customers are going to focus on three key issues: data integration across public, private, and data centers, manageability both in terms of workload optimization, security, and overall performance.  The vendors that can demonstrate that they can provide the right level of service across cloud-based services will win significant business. These vendors will increasingly focus on expanding their partner ecosystem as a way to lock in customers to their cloud platform.

Most importantly, 2011 will be the year of analytics.  The technology industry continues to provide data at an accelerated pace never seen before. But what can we do with this data? What does it mean in organizations’ ability to make better business decisions and to prepare for an unpredictable future?  The traditional warehouse simply is too slow to be effective. 2011 will be the year where predictive analytics and information management overall will emerge as among the hottest and most important initiatives.

Now I know that we all like lists, so I will take what I’ve just said and put them into my top ten predictions:

1. Both today’s market leaders and upstarts are going to continue to acquire assets to become more competitive.  Many emerging startups will be scooped up before they see the light of day. At the same time, there will be almost as many startups emerge as we saw in the dot-com era.

2. Hardware will continue to evolve in a new way. The market will move away from hardware as a commodity. The hardware platform in 2010 will be differentiated based on software and packaging. 2010 will be the year of smart hardware packaged with enterprise software, often as appliances.

3. Cloud computing models will put extreme pressure on everything from software license and maintenance pricing to customer support. Integration between different cloud computing models will be front and center. The cloud model is moving out of risk adverse pilots to serious deployments. Best practices will emerge as a major issue for customers that see the cloud as a way to boost innovation and the rate of change.

4. Managing highly distributed services in a compliant and predictable manner will take center stage. Service management and service level agreements across cloud and on-premises environments will become a prerequisite for buyers.

5. Security software will be redefined based on challenges of customer facing initiatives and the need to more aggressively open the corporate environment to support a constantly morphing relationship with customers, partners, and suppliers.

6. The fear of lock in will reach a fever pitch in 2011. SaaS vendors will increasingly add functionality to tighten their grip on customers.  Traditional vendors will purchase more of the components to support the lifecycle needs of customers.  How can everything be integrated from a business process and data integration standpoint and still allow for portability? Today, the answers are not there.

7. The definition of an application is changing. The traditional view that the packaged application is hermetically sealed is going away. More of the new packaged applications will be based on service orientation based on best practices. These applications will be parameter-driven so that they can be changed in real time. And yes, Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) didn’t die after all.

8. Social networking grows up and will be become business social networks. These initiatives will be driven by line of business executives as a way to engage with customers and employees, gain insights into trends, to fix problems before they become widespread. Companies will leverage social networking to enhance agility and new business models.

9. Managing end points will be one of the key technology drivers in 2011. Smart phones, sensors, and tablet computers are refining what computing means. It will drive the requirement for a new approach to role and process based security.

10. Data management and predictive analytics will explode based on both the need to understand traditional information and the need to manage data coming from new sales and communications channels.

The bottom line is that 2011 will be the year where the seeds that have been planted over the last few years are now ready to become the drivers of a new generation of innovation and business change. Put together everything from the flexibility of service orientation, business process management innovation, the wide-spread impact of social and collaborative networks, the new delivery and deployment models of the cloud. Now apply tools to harness these environments like service management, new security platforms, and analytics. From my view, innovative companies are grabbing the threads of technology and focusing on outcomes. 2011 is going to be an important transition year. The corporations that get this right and transform themselves so that they are ready to change on a dime can win – even if they are smaller than their competitors.

Eight things that changed since we wrote Cloud Computing for Dummies

October 8, 2010 3 comments

I admit that I haven’t written a blog in more than three months — but I do have a good reason. I just finished writing my latest book — not a Dummies book this time. It will be my first business book based on almost three decades in the computer industry. Once I know the publication date I will tell you a lot more about it. But as I was finishing this book I was thinking about my last book, Cloud Computing for Dummies that was published almost two years ago.  As this anniversary approaches I thought it was appropriate to take a look back at what has changed.  I could probably go on for quite a while talking about how little information was available at that point and how few CIOs were willing to talk about or even consider cloud computing as a strategy. But that’s old news.  I decided that it would be most interesting to focus on eight of the changes that I have seen in this fast-moving market over the past two years.

Change One: IT is now on board with cloud computing. Cloud Computing has moved from a reaction to sluggish IT departments to a business strategy involving both business and technology leaders.  A few years ago, business leaders were reading about Amazon and Google in business magazines. They knew little about what was behind the hype. They focused on the fact that these early cloud pioneers seemed to be efficient at making cloud capability available on demand. No paperwork and no waiting for the procurement department to process an order. Two years ago IT leaders tried to pretend that cloud computing was  passing fad that would disappear.  Now I am finding that IT is treating cloud computing as a center piece of their future strategies — even if they are only testing the waters.

Change Two: enterprise computing vendors are all in with both private and public cloud offerings. Two years ago most traditional IT vendors did not pay too much attention to the cloud.  Today, most hardware, software, and services vendors have jumped on the bandwagon. They all have cloud computing strategies.  Most of these vendors are clearly focused on a private cloud strategy. However, many are beginning to offer specialized public cloud services with a focus on security and manageability. These vendors are melding all types of cloud services — public, private, and hybrid into interesting and sometimes compelling offerings.

Change Three: Service Orientation will make cloud computing successful. Service Orientation was hot two years ago. The huge hype behind cloud computing led many pundits to proclaim that Service Oriented Architectures was dead and gone. In fact, cloud vendors that are succeeding are those that are building true business services without dependencies that can migrate between public, private and hybrid clouds have a competitive advantage.

Change Four: System Vendors are banking on integration. Does a cloud really need hardware? The dialog only two years ago surrounded the contention that clouds meant no hardware would be necessary. What a difference a few years can make. The emphasis coming primarily from the major systems vendors is that hardware indeed matters. These vendors are integrating cloud infrastructure services with their hardware.

Change Five: Cloud Security takes center stage. Yes, cloud security was a huge topic two years ago but the dialog is beginning to change. There are three conversations that I am hearing. First, cloud security is a huge issue that is holding back widespread adoption. Second, there are well designed software and hardware offerings that can make cloud computing safe. Third, public clouds are just as secure as a an internal data center because these vendors have more security experts than any traditional data center. In addition, a large number of venture backed cloud security companies are entering the market with new and quite compelling value propositions.

Change Six: Cloud Service Level Management is a  primary customer concern. Two years ago no one our team interviewed for Cloud Computing for Dummies connected service level management with cloud computing.   Now that customers are seriously planning for wide spread adoption of cloud computing they are seriously examining their required level of service for cloud computing. IT managers are reading the service level agreements from public cloud vendors and Software as a Service vendors carefully. They are looking beyond the service level for a single service and beginning to think about the overall service level across their own data centers as well as the other cloud services they intend to use.

Change Seven: IT cares most about service automation. No, automation in the data center is not new; it has been an important consideration for years. However, what is new is that IT management is looking at the cloud not just to avoid the costs of purchasing hardware. They are automation of both routine functions as well as business processes as the primary benefit of cloud computing. In the long run, IT management intends to focus on automation and reduce hardware to interchanagable commodities.

Change Eight: Cloud computing moves to the front office. Two years ago IT and business leaders saw cloud computing as a way to improve back office efficiency. This is beginning to change. With the flexibility of cloud computing, management is now looking at the potential for to quickly innovate business processes that touch partners and customers.

The lock-in risks of Software as a Service

May 3, 2010 3 comments

I started thinking a lot about software as a service environments and what this really means to customers.  I was talking to a CIO of a medium sized company the other day. His company is a customer of a major SaaS vendor (he didn’t want me to name the company). In the beginning things were quite good. The application is relatively easy to navigate and sales people were satisfied with the functionality. However, there was a problem. The use of this SaaS application was actually getting more complicated than the CIO had anticipated.  First, the company had discovered that they were locked into a three-year contract to support 450 sales people.  In addition, over the first several years of use, the company had hired a consultant to customize the workflow within the application.

So, what was the problem?  The CIO was increasingly alarmed about three issues:

  • The lack of elasticity. If the company suddenly had a bad quarter and wanted to reduce the number of licenses supported, they would be out of luck. One of the key promises of cloud computing and SaaS just went out the window.
  • High costs of the services model. It occurred to the CIO that the company was paying a lot more to support the SaaS application than it would have cost to buy an on premise CRM application. While there were many benefits to the reduced hardware and support requirements, the CIO was starting to wonder if the costs were justified.  Did the company really do the analysis to determine the long-term cost/benefit of cloud?  How would he be able to explain the long- term ramifications of budget increases that he expects will come to the CFO? It is not a conversation that he is looking forward to having.
  • No exit strategy. Given the amount of customization that the company has invested in, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no easy answer – and no free lunch. One of the reasons that the company had decided to implement SaaS was the assumption that it would be possible to migrate from one SaaS application to another.  However, while it might be possible to migrate basic data from a SaaS application, it is almost impossible to migrate the process information. Shouldn’t there be a different approach to integration in clouds than for on premise?

The bottom line is that Software as a Service has many benefits in terms of more rapid deployment, initial savings in hardware and support services, and ease of access for a highly distributed workforce.  However, there are complications that are important to take into account.  Many SaaS vendors, like their counterparts in the on-premise world, are looking for long-term agreements and lock-in with customers.  These vendors expect and even encourage customers to customize their implication based on their specific business processes.  There is nothing wrong with this – to make applications like CRM and HR productive they need to reflect a company’s own methods of doing business. However, companies need to understand what they are getting into. It is easy to get caught in the hype of the magic land of SaaS.  As more and more SaaS companies are funded by venture capitalists, it is clear that they will not all survive. What happens to your customized processes and data if the company goes out of business?

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that we need a different approach to integration in the cloud than for on premise. It needs to leverage looser coupling, configurations rather than programmatic integration. We have the opportunity to rethink integration altogether – even for on premise applications.

There is no simple answer to the quandary.  Companies looking to deploy a SaaS application need to do their homework before barreling in.  Understand the risks and rewards. Can you separate out the business process from the basic SaaS application? Do you really want to lock yourself into a vendor you don’t know well? It may not be so easy to free your company, your processes, or your data.

Why we about to move from cloud computing to industrial computing?

April 5, 2010 7 comments

I spent the other week at a new conference called Cloud Connect. Being able to spend four days emerged in an industry discussion about cloud computing really allows you to step back and think about where we are with this emerging industry. While it would be possible to write endlessly about all the meeting and conversations I had, you probably wouldn’t have enough time to read all that. So, I’ll spare you and give you the top four things I learned at Cloud Connect. I recommend that you also take a look at Brenda Michelson’s blogs from the event for a lot more detail. I would also refer you to Joe McKendrick’s blog from the event.

1. Customers are still figuring out what Cloud Computing is all about.  For those of us who spend way too many hours on the topic of cloud computing, it is easy to make the assumption that everyone knows what it is all about.  The reality is that most customers do not understand what cloud computing is.  Marcia Kaufman and I conducted a full day workshop called Introduction to Cloud. The more than 60 people who dedicated a full day to a discussion of all aspects of the cloud made it clear to us that they are still figuring out the difference between infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. They are still trying to understand the issues around security and what cloud computing will mean to their jobs.

2. There is a parallel universe out there among people who have been living and breathing cloud computing for the last few years. In their view the questions are very different. The big issues discussed among the well-connected were focused on a few key issues: is there such a thing as a private cloud?; Is Software as a Service really cloud computing? Will we ever have a true segmentation of the cloud computing market?

3. From the vantage point of the market, it is becoming clear that we are about to enter one of those transitional times in this important evolution of computing. Cloud Connect reminded me a lot of the early days of the commercial Unix market. When I attended my first Unix conference in the mid-1980s it was a different experience than going to a conference like Comdex. It was small. I could go and have a conversation with every vendor exhibiting. I had great meetings with true innovators. There was a spirit of change and innovation in the halls. I had the same feeling about the Cloud Connect conference. There were a small number of exhibitors. The key innovators driving the future of the market were there to discuss and debate the future. There was electricity in the air.

4. I also anticipate a change in the direction of cloud computing now that it is about to pass that tipping point. I am a student of history so I look for patterns. When Unix reached the stage where the giants woke up and started seeing huge opportunity, they jumped in with a vengeance. The great but small Unix technology companies were either acquired, got big or went out of business. I think that we are on the cusp of the same situation with cloud computing. IBM, HP, Microsoft, and a vast array of others have seen the future and it is the cloud. This will mean that emerging companies with great technology will have to be both really luck and really smart.

The bottom line is that Cloud Connect represented a seminal moment in cloud computing. There is plenty of fear among customers who are trying to figure out what it will mean to their own data centers. What will the organizational structure of the future look like? They don’t know and they are afraid. The innovative companies are looking at the coming armies of large vendors and are wondering how to keep their differentiation so that they can become the next Google rather than the next company whose name we can’t remember. There was much debate about two important issues: cloud standards and private clouds. Are these issues related? Of course. Standards always become an issue when there is a power grab in a market. If a Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, or an Oracle is able to set the terms for cloud computing, market control can shift over night. Will standard interfaces be able to save the customer? And how about private clouds? Are they real? My observation and contention is that yes, private clouds are real. If you deploy the same automation, provisioning software, and workload management inside a company rather than inside a public cloud it is still a cloud. Ironically, the debate over the private cloud is also about power and position in the market, not about ideology. If a company like Google, Amazon, or name whichever company is your favorite flavor… is able to debunk the private cloud — guess who gets all the money? If you are a large company where IT and the data center is core to how you conduct business — you can and should have a private cloud that you control and manage.

So, after taking a step back I believe that we are witnessing the next generation of computing — the industrialization of computing. It might not be as much fun as the wild west that we are in the midst of right now but it is coming and should be here before we realize that it has happened.

What are the unanticipated consequences of Cloud Computing- Part I

October 28, 2009 4 comments

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.