Opinion: Cloud atlas

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1 January 2013 | 0

The IT press is awash at the moment with predictions of what the coming year will hold for the industry. And we are no different as we gather insights and opinions from industry insiders and experts from page 17 of the magazine.

But one piece that caught my eye was in the US publication, Network World. Freelancer Christine Burns makes 10 very reasonable predictions about the future of cloud computing, that are lucid and well researched. Based on experiences in the US market, the trends are likely to be seen here too in the near future.

Burns says that the hybrid cloud market will take off to an accelerated degree in 2013, but that this will not necessary topple Amazon as the incumbent public cloud service provider. However, Burns points out in some of her other predictions that this will lead to a need for better cloud management that will likely facilitate the rise of cloud service brokers (CSB). ‘Software defined’ as a term will apply to more than networking, where it will become the new standard. Security in the cloud will go the hybrid way too, as a combination hosted applications, appliances and ‘as a service’ options are combined to protect mixed environments of many permutations.

 

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Big Data will of course figure too, as the tools and techniques to handle it all improve and can be delivered via the cloud also. Data sovereignty issues will continue to impact on all users of the cloud, and that dreadful word, and worse concept, ‘gamification’ will be a feature of both sales and internal staff processes.

However, it was one detail around the prediction of the emergence of CSB that set me thinking. Burns spoke to John Treadway, VP, Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consultancy. Treadway said that he advises clients to only take on as-a-service offerings if they have been developed in standard application programming interfaces (API) and within a service oriented architecture.

Now this advice was in the context of the emergence of what were called integration hubs. This is where providers will aggregate common as-a-service offerings for businesses from major providers, and put them together in an easy to manage interface, and critically, allow one bill for usage. However, it also raises an important point about cloud computing in general.

The cloud computing scene is fragmented, built as it is on the virtualisation providers, namely VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, Red Hat, Xen, IBM, Parallels and more. Now, in reality, there are probably two or three main routes and the rest are niche players at best. I’ll let you argue amongst yourself s as to who the three are. But the point is that there is still a Wild West element to the offerings. This is especially so when you throw in the likes of major platform providers such as Amazon and Google who use their own secret sauce. Efforts have been made to bring some kind of standardisation to the party, with initiatives such as CA Technology’s Cloud Commons, but none have really become the standard and, instead, the ones that have survived tend to be vendor or platform specific.
From Burns’ prediction, it sounds as if the market, through a need for ever greater integration of services, will determine a certain standardisation that no vendor or community was able to enact previously. In the usual fashion, the most accommodating, accessible and user friendly standard will probably emerge, not necessarily the best technically, or even performance wise. In a possible re-run of such famous battles as Betamax and VHS, standards for integration will emerge that are simply the best fit for the market at the time.

This will most likely help to combat the dreaded vendor lock-in that generally appears with security and data sovereignty fears in the ever rotating top three inhibitors of cloud computing adoption.

The standardisation drive will also facilitate the prediction that Burns makes around hybrid cloud management tools, as the standardisation of services will facilitate their easy management, as well as their aggregation into packaged services. 

 

Of course the next logical prediction would be to say what the API front runners are and which are likely to become the standards. Well, I’m afraid the resources I have here, both in terms of pages and knowledge are insufficient for such a discourse, but it is certainly an interesting prospect that the developing market will push something no one vendor or platform within the space has thus far managed to do, despite, admittedly, there being major imbalance in terms of the extent of market share among the major players.

However, despite these very interesting implications from the potential fruition of this clutch of predictions, Burns retains a sting in the tail. She goes on to warn that outages, service interruptions and shakeouts will continue apace too, supported by analysts.

"Outages will happen as a matter of course," according to Lydia Leong, research VP, Gartner, quoted by Burns. "There is no way every contingency can be tested for." And while Burns is correct, she makes a further point that acquisitions in the space will likely see more disruption as the larger providers snap up smaller players, with potentially interesting technologies or customers. Not all of these acquisitions will be allowed to retain their identity, or perhaps even their previous focus. This could mean that a small player who did something unique could be acquired for that very quality only to have it enfolded within some larger group that may necessitate a platform change for customers who wish to continue using that feature..

So, as standardisation is forged in one direction, those very same market forces may very well strengthen the hand of the major players to acquire smaller market disruptors, thus contributing to a level of unreliability that further undermines the entire public cloud value proposition.

Welcome to the world of cloud computing in 2013!

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