So much messaging on cloud computing has been slamming my inbox lately that I’ve been tempted to tune out, but of course I cannot. I do believe that in the next few years we will reach a tipping point that will touch a lot of IT plans and map a destiny for entrepreneurs.
Over time, cloud computing might do to captive IT what iTunes did to CDs, but in corporate technology, we've rarely seen such a consumer-like gold rush. With everyone behaving so hip and game changing, you can almost smell a cloud TV reality series coming soon. This week alone there’s a Web 2.0 conference and the big Interop event in New York and DreamForce in San Francisco that will probably draw 25,000 people between them. If you’re bored with your inlaws, you can head to Singapore for a Thanksgiving cloud banquet next week.
No one is saying this is a fad or a bad thing or a bust. Six months ago I thought workers were chained to their desks and conferences were out for the year. But now that I am proven wrong, the big vendor industry still looks frustratingly pregnant, with everyone poised in coats and hats, waiting to rush to the hospital. From an outsider's point of view, a lot of vendor marketers are frozen in their boots to find that their messaging is coming true, and that they now have to fill in the blanks in their promises.
The mainstreaming has been under way for a good year. IBM has the only TV commercial on cloud computing I have seen so far, slick as an iPhone ad, more vague but equally portentous. This week, IBM also launched a petabyte-sized business analytics cloud for internal employees, one of those stories that show how much a vendor believes in an IT evolution. To their credit, IBM did very well in a similar internal launch of employee blogs and discussions. IBM's project is also open to customers, and claims their petabyte can contain 100 times the data held in the U.S. Library of Congress. As far as I know these are so far empty bytes, and I'll leave the punch line to others to compare that to our Congress's output of late.
That's why it doesn't surprise me that big software/hardware vendor cloud launches are so strident on message and short on detail. Peruse the messaging of IBM, HP, Oracle, Microsoft, their consultants and all the competitive big names, and see if you disagree. Even Amazon Web Services (AWS) won't speak directly about developments during their latest earnings calls or talk to reporters outside of infrequent press releases and summaries that arrive after business hours on a Friday night. (Now, that's something Congress is good at).
The heart of this evolution isn't servers, it's creativity. The flip side of the public clouds is that corporate experimenters, institutions and SaaS vendors are running all kinds of interesting experiments and production workloads, though most are not visible yet. More important, the open source group movements that gave birth to new business models such as Animoto stands to influence future investments of mainstream companies and startups. Turn a few brainiacs loose with open infrastructure, and some Ph.D. or startup genius will bury a Fortune 1000 company in data processing within a week. And if a simple correct business model proves true, it might well change a company's direction or win on its own with a few keen managers and a bit of investment.
But you know the stork is circling when the financial markets jump into the game and pick the winners. Last week, Goldman Sachs put out a fat report complete with a “paradigm shift,” and, in their own branding, a “Techtonic” one. If Goldman’s picks turn out to be true, we can all go back to our desks because the incumbents winners listed are Accenture, Cisco, EMC, HP and IBM. Somebody has a lot of storage and blade servers to sell and configure.
Goldman's list of "disruptors" is a mix of familiar and unlikely names: Brocade, Citrix, F5, NetApp and Juniper, among others. I've never been good at stock picks but I always thought this was an important movement and that I was one of a couple dozen prescient writers when the industry started thinking seriously about this stuff a few years ago. If our foreboding was good instinct, we pushed the button too early and now we’re running out of clever headlines. Gestations can lose congruity when you’re watching events too closely, and we suddenly find ourselves in a slippery moment. Reporters and independent software vendors have this problem in common, we're always regaining our footing, perspective and timing.
Meanwhile, security, integration, networking and other expert skeptics are warning against the cloud with some justification. But even industry veteran Lou Agosta politely ate his words when retail giant Dollar General launched what might be the first reported enterprise data warehouse of its size, some 70 billion records, in the cloud.
My next leading indicator predicts we'll hit the true birth of cloud computing when someone comes up with a good industry cover-up conspiracy, as in RFID chips in dollar bills or cell phones that cause brain tumors. I have seen it before and so have may others. Once that kind of opposition arrives, we will be wheels down. I can only hope I have the right stories in hand when it happens, because it is happening pretty fast.