The cloud computing market continues to explode. It will expand nearly six-fold by 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet: Forrester last year predicted market growth to $241 billion by the end of the decade, from $41 billion.
With healthy competition between incumbents and ambitious startups, it’s unlikely any single player will dominate for the foreseeable future. And yet, the hype blitz around big vendor showcase events is almost enough to persuade us they really do sell everything we’ll ever need.
The truth is rather more nuanced.
Private, Public, or Hybrid? Yes
Big business has not rushed headlong to the public cloud. Existing investments in corporate data centers play a role here. These non-public cloud contracts may take years to reach the end of their life.
Few CIOs can relish standing before the Board to explain why the new data center with its server racks stuffed full of twinkling lights should be mothballed.
Instead, the managers of these corporate IT facilities are getting creative. They’re responding to employee concern about the months it takes to requisition a new server, and deploying “private cloud” solutions from VMware and others in limited areas where they are authorized. These are often virtual machines available for use within hours or minutes. End users see something approaching the experience promised by public cloud providers such as Amazon and Rackspace, but corporate data stays on site, and corporate IT remains firmly in control.
Elsewhere, a growing demographic is embracing the public cloud with open arms. Young companies in the tech sector and beyond are starting in the public cloud, growing in the public cloud, and rarely looking back. Without the up-front requirement for expenditure on physical servers and shrink-wrapped software, new businesses really can be born in a coffee shop, powered only by good ideas, a web browser, and a credit card on file with Amazon, Rackspace, or one of a growing group of cloud infrastructure competitors. Some, like Zynga, will grow up in the public cloud, then pull some of their computing back into new private data centers.
And although Zynga’s direction of travel from public toward private is unusual, its enthusiasm for a hybrid solution is becoming widely shared. Even the most heavily regulated bank benefits from cheaply running tests and anonymized trend analyses in the public cloud. Even the most Internet savvy embracer of public cloud finds data that cannot leave the building.
Vocal proponents of public cloud damn on-premise solutions as the ‘false cloud,’ and sellers of corporate IT solutions over-play the security or privacy concerns around the public cloud. But both are wilfully obfuscating reality. The trend is moving inexorably to the public cloud, but the reality for several years to come will remain hybrid.
The cloud stack
The basic idea of the cloud stack remains a useful tool in thinking about how different companies and services fit together. Very simply, the stack is made up of three layers:
The boundaries between these layers have become increasingly fluid, with most of today’s cloud companies at least attempting to straddle two of them.
Today, Amazon is a dominant provider of public cloud infrastructure, through offerings such as the Simple Storage Service (S3) and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Amazon continues to innovate, and to drive the price of basic infrastructure down, but it’s far from alone. Companies like Rackspace and CloudSigma compete in providing similar cloud infrastructure. Further up the cloud stack, platforms from Heroku, Engineyard and Apprenda are among those delivering tools that developers need in order to deliver compelling experiences to their own customers. And in the area of Software as a Service (SaaS), Salesforce continues to blaze its own bright trail. Google, Microsoft and others are transforming the office productivity market by delivering free or cheap cloud-based collaboration tools.
So what does it mean?
It means that you’re likely going to need to deal with multiple vendors, and don’t be fooled into believing otherwise. Innovators like Amazon, Salesforce, or VMware have done much to push the boundaries of the cloud, but the broader market is rich, complex, and rapidly evolving — even within the respective areas they are dominant in.
Amazon is a sound choice to power the additional web servers supporting your new product marketing campaign, but increasingly there other options out there — RackSpace/OpenStack, Joyent, Bluelock, and Citrix to name only a few. Not to mention the obvious: Amazon is probably the last place you’d go to buy a new cloud productivity suite.
Salesforce continues to blaze a trail in offering innovative ways to engage with and track customers, but no one ever placed the company high on a list of suppliers to deliver cheap cloud servers. And VMware is doing a great job building upon its early successes in server virtualization, but isn’t in a position to offer you scalable on-demand infrastructure. In assembling the program for November’s CloudBeat 2012 event, we’ve tried to provide a map through that complexity, and intend to reach a broader audience than a group of developers already wedded to a single provider. Public, private and hybrid all have a place. Infrastructure, Platform and Applications all meet different needs. There are still relatively few cases in which any single provider can meet a complex set of real-world customer requirements. NASA, for example, is one organization that has quite publicly embraced a range of solutions, including home-grown technology, OpenStack, Eucalyptus, Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon, and more. The smart customers of cloud are being pragmatic, and adopting a wide range of solutions.
Those solutions — and those customers — should be at CloudBeat. Will you?
[Image credit: TargetOnlineMarketing]