Cloud computing is here and it is real. It is helping businesses lower costs and be more agile. It is allowing startups to lower their setup costs and large enterprises to do R&D faster. It is being used by companies in financial services, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, media, and many others. And B.C. is developing a rich ecosystem of cloud computing companies that you may not know about yet.
For those unfamiliar with the term, cloud computing is the name given to the IT industry's shift towards delivering IT as services. This is only another phase-shift, one of many that the computer industry has already experienced. Using mainframes as a starting point (which offered computing at the "center"), we then moved to minis, then PCs (computing at the edge), then client/server (computing moved back to the center), then the web (computing at both ends), server virtualization (abstracting the applications and software from the hardware underneath), and now automation and self-service.
What's cloud and what isn't?
There are a lot of debates about who fits where. For the purpose of this article, we have broken the industry down in a 3x3 grid as follows.
For layers, we have the following key three that are most often referenced in taxonomies of the market: applications; platforms; and infrastructure.
Applications contains those applications used by end-users, administrators, and managers. Platforms are the middleware that sits underneath the applications, often including things like security, management tools, databases, messaging, and servers. Infrastructure includes things such as core computing and storage resources and infrastructure management.
For types, we have broken this down into "Public", "Hosted", and "Private" - terms that are by no means adequate and which probably cause more misunderstanding these days but they're commonly used so we'll use them here.
This Public column is the one that is really "new" in the sense that it is different than what came before in the Hosted and Public columns. Sometimes it helps to think about a number of dimensions that make something column 1 or 2 or 3. In column 1, you find that apps, platforms, and infrastructure have been highly abstracted from hardware, they are offered as a service over the public internet, they are designed as "multi-tenant" services (one core code base under all users), often have publicly accessible APIs, are metered (if not billed by) usage, are often designed in a way that lets users provision themselves instantly and leave when they want. Some very well-known examples that fit well in column 1 are Salesforce.com, Google's web-based Google Apps, Force.com (the development platform), Google's App Engine (a deployment platform), and of course Amazon Web Services, the Rackspace Cloud, and now Microsoft Azure.
In the Hosted column, you find "On-Demand" applications from the big vendors. Often these are just applications hosted by the vendor with both a perpetual license fee and a separate hosting fee. Most of the time, it is the same application or platform stack as what you could install yourself locally on your own servers. I've included them here because people often ask "isn't Hosted Exchange a cloud service?" Well, not if you want "Column 1" cloud services. It's a single-tenant, high cost-structure offering that does not pass any of the Column 1 tests.
In the Private column, we have placed those vendors who are building anything that would fit in the "Private cloud" category. If the vendor is just simply building apps, platforms, or infrastructure that is not and never will be used for delivery "as a service", they have not been included here. Same with software so if there are applications that are used behind the firewall and that will never be delivered across the public internet, particularly in a multi-tenanted, "as a service" model, they were not included here.
So where are the opportunities?
With every major phase shift, a lot of things need to be rebuilt. When the industry moved to server virtualization, all of the major infrastructure tools had to be rebuilt. Out of that chaos, VMWare came from nowhere and gained 80% marketshare against its closest competitor Microsoft. And many small companies were born and did great things. That opportunity is now ahead of us again as all of the industry ecosystem is refactored once again. What is up for grabs? Everything: storage, computing, management, billing systems, security, cross-cloud management tools, SOA tools, databases and analytics systems, testing tools and deployment tools. It's a complete ten year rebuild, just like the last cycle. Some stuff will move forward untouched but much of it has to be refactored.
How do you learn more?
With such major transitions, there are a lot of questions. Is this next wave safe? Can I trust my data in the cloud? Why would I give up the server under my desk or in the server room? What is harder? What is easier? How do I separate the noise from the signal? Which vendors will win...and which will fail? Can I really trust Google or Salesforce or Microsoft to own and manage all of my infrastructure? How will I move from Private to Public? Is public computing really public? Is private cloud really cloud?
No matter who you are: an established business owner/manager running a company, a startup team building new products, a CIO, a systems administrator, or a developer, I'd like to invite you to Vancouver's first Cloud Camp, which will be held on March 13, 2010 at Discovery Park. It's a free day to come and ask and learn and share. It is a free event, paid for entirely by our sponsors and includes coffee and lunch. Please come with your questions, your concerns, and your ideas. We look forward to seeing you there. http://www.cloudcamp.org/vancouver.
I'm in the process of assembling a comprehensive list of BC companies involved in Cloud Computing. If you know of a company that isn't already on this list, please add it to the comments of this blog post and we'll be sure to consider it.
Troy is an emerging technology entrepreneur, advisor, speaker, blogger, and consultant. His writings, market maps, and partnering deals have appeared in Sandhill.com, eWeek, Information Week, Info World, VentureBeat, ReadWriteWeb, and many others. He blogs at www.troyangrignon.com and tweets @troyangrignon.