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I was in a meeting with Ciscos China GM for Datacenter Virtualization, Charleston Sin last week and he asked the same billion dollar question everyone’s been asking in China and worldwide recently: “How big do you think the Cloud Market will become?”, adding, “HQ is always asking for our numbers.” He’s not alone, analysts and technology leaders all over the world are asking and being asked this question. The problem for us all is what exactly does this question mean, or more specifically, what does Cloud Market mean?
The same thing is happening with green. Governments and people around the world recognised the importance of saving energy and cutting carbon. A lot of technologies and businesses emerged as a result of reduced technology costs. In China, for example, there was a boom of solar panel producers. Now, everything that saves 1% energy cost or 2% carbon can be called ‘green’. Green doesn’t mean anything any more, it is simply a trend.
Let’s take a look at what is happening in these cases.
At the beginning in the red circle new technologies emerge, and start to become cost effective for businesses to adopt. Next in the green, businesses start adopting these technologies more agressively, they become integrated together, new paradigms emerge and people find new ways to innovate and use the technology. In the purple, the analysts, companies like Gartner and IDC, identify these emerging trends and give them a name. Finally, in the blue, the marketing departments of companies grab the name and go crazy with it, as the whole world of technology explodes in excitement about this new trend.
Above we see some of the technologies and trends that have lead to the explosion of cloud. However I believe what has happened in Cloud is that marketing people now use the word ‘cloud’ to define not one, but a very general and unspecific set of different trends, such as virtualization, on-demand IT, desktop virtual desktops, and big data. Technology reporter and friend Navin Kabra from Pune, India, writes in his recent article about Apple’s iCloud ‘…by now the term “Cloud Computing” or “Cloud” has become so diluted as to be essentially meaningless.’ His point is a valid one. Cloud now describes so many different trends that even the IDC and US government’s formal definitions of Cloud don’t really help any more. It is not important to argue about what Cloud is, but instead to recognise and accept that it covers a number of different trends.
Soon we are going to stop being interested in using Cloud as an ‘umbrella term’ for a number of technologies, applications and trends, in the same way ‘Web 2.0’ is no longer a popular or useful tech term. We can begin now, by using more specific terms such as IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS to describe what we really mean. However these three alone are not enough to cover all the new ‘Cloud’ technologies which are emerging. For example, is Apple’s iCloud ‘IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS’? Clearly it’s not IaaS or SaaS, and it’s not really a full platform either, it’s more like a storage platform or ‘Sync-as-a-Service’, a new dimension in the cloud game. And what about other services such as backup and voice as a service? These will soon be offered entirely as an elastic service: ‘Backup-as-a-Service’, ‘Voice-as-Service’.
Gartner has a well known ‘hype cycle’ curve which currently has Cloud perched neatly on top, ready for downfall. Does this mean the market will dry up and suddenly there will be no demand for IaaS – enabling technology, SaaS, Cloud Sync, big data, and other so-called cloud technology? Unlikely, I think, instead it will signal the end of the hype, and time for meaningful words, business models and technologies to emerge and grow strongly from 2012 through 2020. So perhaps we can start re-thinking how we use the word ‘Cloud’ now and stop trying to answer impossible questions like ‘What is Cloud Computing?’.
Now we can return to Charleston’s billion dollar question: “How big will the Cloud Market become?” and turn it into a meaningful one for his organisation, like: “How will trends in IT-as-a-service drive network equipment growth?”. With specific questions like this we can create meaningful answers which help build solid intelligence.
Questions such as ‘How big is Cloud?’ and ‘What is Cloud?’ are now only really useful from a marketing standpoint. Engineers and business leaders need to stay focussed and define what these cloud trends and technoligies really mean to their business, and how they can take advantage of them. The age of cloud hype is coming to an end, the real work is beginning, and businesses need to decide where to focus. The key is not to pay too much attention to the purple and blue circles in the diagram which represent the trends, hype and marketing terms of technology, and instead to keep focussed on the real benefits and applications of those technologies. Only in this way can businesses that want to take advantage of this paradigm shift in IT succeed. Next time someone asks you ‘What is Cloud?’, rather than confuse them with your own interpretation of Cloud, perhaps you can engage them with this answer: “First tell me about what your business does, tell me how you use information and technology, and I’ll tell how cloud computing can benefit you.”