My Take on the Cloud of 2013

GigaOM has published its vision of the cloud for 2013 (, and it’s a decent document overall.  Still, there are places I think need further comment, and that’s a decent way to open the last week before the holidays, and for many the last working week of 2012.

The first point in the GigaOM commentary is that this is the year that the public cloud has to be proved for enterprises.  I agree, but I think it’s going to be more complicated than dealing with security or reliability concerns.  Anyone who thinks all the current “business critical” apps are going to the public cloud is dreaming, first of all.  The key is to find the correct role for the public cloud, because to insist it’s the be-all-end-all is to end it, in credibility terms.  The success of the cloud won’t happen in 2013, but what will likely happen is that we’ll come to understand that hybridizing SOA applications and creating a cloud-based virtual operating system that envelopes the enterprise and public resources equally is the only approach that can win.  Maybe that will be enough to get that approach moving…finally.

It WILL be a make-or-break year for HP, largely because of my first point.  HP needs, more than anyone, a vision of “the cloud” that’s accommodating to everything from tablets to servers, public to private.  If you’re the biggest IT company then you need really big visions to turn yourself around.  HP has made the mistake so many companies make, which is to let themselves get compartmentalized in a marketplace where the buyer wants ecosystems.  You can’t solve problems one box at a time, no matter what the box is.

OpenStack is also facing a big year, and again because of my first point.  Arguing over who can produce the best IaaS is like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  That’s not where the cloud’s success will be.  OpenStack doesn’t mandate a specific virtualization model but so far it’s pretty tightly coupled with IaaS as a model of service.  If OpenStack can’t extend itself to the PaaS space, if it can’t extend platform services and create that virtual operating system, then someone will do it above them.  If that happens, then OpenStack is simply part of the plumbing.

On the next point, I argue it makes my first point.  Infrastructure extends beyond the walls of the data center.  It doesn’t eliminate the data center, and it just as much extends the cloud INTO the data center as it does pull the data center out into the cloud.  There is only one IT architecture in the future, and that architecture doesn’t know boundaries or administrative domains or technology barriers.  Because the cloud is what conceptualizes the new model, it’s up to the cloud to create it.  What current cloud technology does is just mimic the data center.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a lousy way to create a high-margin, high-value future.  The cloud has to find its wings.

Software-defined-everything doesn’t get easier, but it’s the inevitable result of the need to create that boundary-less infrastructure and that virtual operating system.  The purpose of SDN for example is to make the network cooperate explicitly with the IT model instead of serving as a dumb independent substrate.  We can’t build distributed platforms without control of what does the distributing.  But the goal of SDN has to be to slave behavior to the cloud model, and absent that model there’s little chance that SDN can reach its full potential.  Like everything else in the world of the cloud, SDN depends on finding its place in a glorious whole.  Otherwise it’s an un-summed part.

So given that all these predictions hang together on the presumption that there’s a universal cloud out there somewhere, why don’t we see more of it?  Part of the answer is that everyone is trying to both protect their base and sustain near-term momentum.  You can’t sell a guy a box that has to live for five years if that buyer thinks the future is going to be radically different from the present in some unknown way, at some undetermined point.  Thus, we ask buyers to accept evolution in abstract only and bet that current technology will somehow lead in the right direction, even if we can’t define just what direction that is.

We are approaching the grandest of all IT visions with the most near-sighted of all possible mindsets as we enter 2013.  Even our vision of next year is mired in our limited perceptions, our limited aspirations.  Grand dreams created every revolution in computing and networking in the past, not scrabbling in the dirt for a few crumbs by hosting server consolidation and telling ourselves it will matter more next year.  Do you want me to say nice things about your company next year?  Then show me your dreams.

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