I’m having a little trouble getting started on this topic. With the number of articles already written about clouds in the various business publications, it seemed that it would be only a matter of time before I got around to talking about it. I am now paraphrasing a speech by Winston Churchill in that it appears: “Never has so much been written by so many and understood by so few”.
Churchill was of course referring to the RAF and the Battle of Briton early in World War Two, but this variation also seems somewhat apropos for the market battles looming for the hearts, minds and most importantly pocketbooks of corporate customers now as well as in the future.
I went out and tried to find the simplest definitions for clouds that I could. I did this for two reasons. The first is that there is already an incredible amount already written on these topics (as I noted above) and the second is that I am just the tiniest bit lazy and don’t want to have to rewrite all of it. You will notice this trend throughout this article. Here is what I came up with for “Clouds”:
1. The second studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, released on May 1, 1969.
2. A visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body.
3. A service with any resource that is provided over the Internet. The most common cloud service resources are Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
I’ll skip the first two definitions for now, and focus in on the third one.
I think the evolution of the name “Cloud Services” actually came from the fact that it was difficult for technology companies to draw a “network” when using the early iterations of the Microsoft PowerPoint application for presentations. The simplest ClipArt icon that conveyed the idea of a network without having to draw in all the complexity was a “cloud”. That was what was used in all network related presentations. We all became familiar with it. Hence the cloud became synonymous with describing a network and cloud services have become synonymous with services delivered over the network.
The power of PowerPoint. If early iterations of the presentation application had contained interesting representations of multi-sided geometric shapes instead of clouds, it is possible that we might all be discussing “Polygonal Services” instead of “Cloud Services”.
Getting back to Cloud Services. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet. Platform as a Service (PaaS) refers to the delivery of operating systems and associated services over the Internet without downloads or installation. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) involves outsourcing the equipment used to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers and networking components, all of which are made accessible over a network.
The question that initially came to my mind when looking at all of these items “as a Service” was why would anyone want to do all of this over the network instead of buying the stuff and doing it the way that it had been done?
The answer seems to lie in the potential efficiencies that may be gained. Moving to “the cloud” focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. In the past each company and its associated users, had to purchase its own dedicated resources, whether it was software, computing or network infrastructure. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also dynamically reallocated per demand. This can work for allocating resources to users across a single company, or multiple companies.
The claim is that moving to the cloud allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of on infrastructure. It is also claimed that the cloud allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance and enables Information Technology (IT) organizations to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.
Cloud computing is viewed as having become the vanguard offer for cloud services in that it can provide a highly demanded service or utility with the advantages of high computing power, cheap cost of services, high performance, scalability, accessibility as well as availability. Cloud vendors are claiming to be experiencing growth rates of up to 50% per year in this area. Cloud services are provided to an organization by moving away from a traditional CAPEX model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the OPEX model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as one uses it).
So, if the computing piece of corporate infrastructure seems to work in a “cloud” environment, then every piece of corporate infrastructure ought to work in a cloud environment, right?
I suppose this could be the case, but when I look at it a little more closely it seems that cloud based services are best applied to those capabilities that could almost be considered a commodity. In the case of cloud computing it is the basic amount of computing power and memory that are commoditized. In buying a cloud based computing service you purchase an amount of memory and a number of processing units, both of which could be considered commodities at this point.
By extension, there seems to be groups that are trying to commoditize other customer infrastructure aspects in an attempt, or in preparation for them becoming a cloud based service. If we think of routing as a commodity we end up with a number of bits (megabits, gigabits, etc.) routed per second. The same sort of approach would be applicable to switching. Pretty soon you may be able to take everything down to a function, instead of a platform or piece of equipment, and provide it as a service.
The question is when will companies and businesses be ready to look at their infrastructures, platforms and software in this way?
The most recent market analysis that I could find (from 2014 I think) shows that the total data processing market is approximately $115 Billion in annual revenue, while the Hosted / Cloud services portion of it is about $13 Billion (or a little over 11%) annually. While the portion of the computing market being served by cloud based solutions is a significant amount of money, it is still a relatively small but growing amount of the available market.
It is widely thought that computing services are the lead capability driving cloud services. That would indicate that other platforms, applications and pieces of infrastructure have not taken root in the cloud based structure and grown to the extent that cloud based computing has. That doesn’t mean that they won’t. It just means that they haven’t yet.
The market growth rate forecasts and estimates for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS – computing, and other infrastructure capabilities) are reasonable, or at least it seems so to me. But when IaaS represents only 11% of the market, even a 50% growth as claimed by some suppliers only takes it to 15% of the market. Such is the next layer down analysis that must be done when such large percentage growth claims are made. Even at these growth rates and assuming there will be no slow down in its adoption, it appears that full Cloud Services market acceptance and utilization may still be a little ways off.
In other words, it seems that it is very wise to be aware of and prepared for cloud based services, but in the mean time it also appears that for at least the next few years the current capital based equipment solutions and services market systems will still be the majority market approach for business infrastructure, platforms and software. Cloud based services for these capabilities, for at least the shorter term will probably be a smaller, but potentially growing part of the market.
As Joni Mitchell said in the song “Both Sides, Now” on her 1969 Clouds album:
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”
Wow. She wrote that forty six years ago. I’d say that’s pretty good but then I always liked Joni Mitchell.