The Right Kind of Cloud Vision

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I’m a believer in the thesis that the cloud changes everything.  Yes, I believe it’s over-hyped (what isn’t these days), but it represents the reformulation of the partnership between networking and information technology, and in particular it provides the framework for us to direct vast information resources to what I’ve been calling the “point of activity”.  Whatever changes are driven in networking and in IT will be driven by the cloud.

But that, of course, means the cloud has to be driving somewhere, and THAT in turn means we have to bull through the crap to come to terms with what cloud computing will really mean and really do.  That’s critical in assessing who’s really doing it, or helping to do it.

We’ve had shared computing for longer than most who read this blog have been alive, much less been in the space.  I worked on a “timesharing” computing project back in the ‘60s, for example.  The great majority of those who have an Internet presence have always relied on “hosting”.  My point is that when the concept of cloud computing first came along, it was really supposed to be a new model, not a name that people would apply retrospectively to all manner of stuff that had been going on for decades.  Yet today we read about the “cloud market” in volume terms that can only be justified by a presumption of mental disorder or by the inclusion of a bunch of “stuff-that-wasn’t-the-cloud-but-is-now-because-it-makes-a-better-report”.

Why all the hype?  The total incremental revenue opportunity for the “real cloud” is nearly the same as the total of current provider revenues.  And the players that will realize this opportunity?  Well, let’s look at the Internet today.  We have Google and Netflix and we have ISPs.  Who’s realizing the content opportunity?  No, I’m not saying that the carriers are incapable of being cloud players, I’m saying that the opportunity in the cloud space is up at the higher layers, with “software” and “experiences” as a service.  Sure you can build all that stuff on IaaS or PaaS, but until you do you’re scrabbling for the scraps, profit-margin-wise.  Realizing the cloud’s potential is going to be about CLOUD APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT and not moving stuff to the cloud.

I’ve talked about the fact that realizing cloud opportunity means creating what’s effectively a virtual OS in the cloud.  Let me get more specific on what would be needed.

First, a recognition that the software framework for the real cloud opportunity will look a heck of a lot more like SOA than like virtualization.  I’m not saying that virtualization might not be used for resource partitioning, but we don’t write apps to be virtualized.  We DO write SOA apps to be componentized and distributed, and the sooner we realize that’s what the cloud of the future is doing, the better.

Second, a model to visualize how individual experiences or services are built in a “virtual container” with secure internal communications and then delivered into the outside world using an open network.  The OpenStack Quantum model is a good start for this, but it’s not complete in describing how the in-container and from-outside views of the application components and resources are isolated and how that would scale profitably.

Third, a model of federation across these virtual containers.  Applications and experiences don’t live in a vacuum, they’re created from partnerships and delivered in complicated user-orchestrated behavioral symphonies.  How do the pieces get identified, trusted, and linked?  How can players provide packaged capabilities or draw on them?  Will we create programmatic chaos and then expect unity here?  The right federation approach makes black boxes and interfaces the way we build experiences.  The wrong approach makes every experience a custom development.

Fourth, a model of the network that supports all of this.  SDN and NFV are attempts to frame a new network model, but neither of them is grounded solidly enough in the reality that absent the cloud and the revenues and services it offers, there’s no economic framework to pay for the changes and we’re back to grubbing nickels and dimes in cost savings to pay for a lunch.

Finally, devices.  An optimum cloud host isn’t a standard server, or a virtualized server.  What is it?  An optimum cloud-consuming appliance could be a current tablet or smartphone only if you believe in a happy accident.  What would that gadget be DESIGNED to be like?  And what’s left of network devices when you virtualize all your network functions and centralize all your route control?  Yes these devices are in all kinds of different spaces, but they are either “one” to the cloud or we don’t have the cloud vision right at all.

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