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One Cloud, Two Clouds, Four Clouds, More?

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 26, 2007

GigaOm writes recently that the world may only need 5 clouds, echoing a misquote attributed to Thomas J. Watson at IBM.  Nick Carr is much closer to the likely outcome when he writes about Vertical Clouds, an interesting article well worth a read.

The reality is that we have not yet settled on exactly what product the clouds are offering.  Today, we’re at the lowest common denominator of Linux dial tone along with bulk storage.  That’s Amazon EC2 and S3 in a nutshell.  It may be that after a suitable period of consolidatin the world only needs 5 or so Linux dial tone offerings.  Given the number of nearly identical services offering web and email servers, we seem to be a long long ways from that consolidation.

I like Carr’s idea better.  Linux dial tone is useful, but doesn’t ultimately doesn’t take utility computing very far along the path to its true potential.  That potential extends well beyond broadly generic services and into vertically oriented spaces just as non-cloud computing products do.  Just take a look at the plethora of database offerings alone.  There are Open Source databases like MySQL, column store and other specialized DB’s for Business Intelligence, Enterprise mainstays like Oracle and DB2, database hardware like Teradata, and so on.  Each of these is filling a particular niche and ecosystem.  Each of those niches can spawn at least one specialized cloud to service the interests of the niche.  The clouds are a long ways from being mature enough to start taking on multiple niches at once.

The linkages between clouds will also be interesting.  Someone remarked to me that the problem with the cloud is there isn’t just one, there are many, and there are walls between them.  We’re starting to see those walls break down in some cases.  Look at the offer by Joyent to do hosting of Facebook apps.  The offer is free to the first 3500 developers to sign up.  How do they do it?  By means of a special cloud-to-cloud link:

There is also no latency. We have set up a direct physical fiber optic line between the Joyent data center and Facebook’s data center. Somewhere under San Francisco bay, there is a multiple-gigabit-per-second fiber line capable of pumping massive traffic.

Fiber is remarkably cheap.  I would expect to see more partnerships between non-competing cloud vendors who provide connections between their clouds that offer advantages in terms of bandwidth, cost for bandwidth, and latency just like this example.  Imagine you’re creating an enterprise application of some kind.  Perhaps it’s even CRM and you want to host a component on Force.  But, Force is expensive, and you don’t want everything there.  Perhaps you’ll also need a connection to WebEx so you can do teledemos with customers.  Lastly, you want some kind of Business Intelligence capability that goes well beyond what Force offers.  Now let’s suppose you discover a utility computing vendor that has special cloud connections out to Force and WebEx, and offers BI capabilities as part of their service.  That would be exciting to you, and probably to a lot of other vendors.

Here’s another one that matters: geography.  Which geographies does your cloud vendor cover and how does that map back to your business.  Amazon recently announced the ability to target S3 data to their European datacenter.  Much more will follow.  Connections to the CDN’s will also factor in here.  There are a lot of other scenarios that could develop.  Suppose Facebook decides hosting is a way to monetize.  If you want to tie into their Social Graph database, you have to build your application in their cloud.  Hmmm.  That’s a head scratcher.  What could companies like Google do by persuading you to move into their cloud?  What if there was an economic rational to save both parties money by colocating?  Perhaps it becomes cheaper for Google to search your content and part of that savings is passed on to make it cheaper for you to host your content inside Google’s cloud. 

Get ready for a lot of complexity and choice to be injected to the cloud computing picture.  The connections that take place between different categories of Enterprise software are pretty well understood.  What’s less well understood is how they will manifest themselves as connections between clouds.  It seems clear that there are many opportunities for success out there.  Many more than just five clouds will be needed.  In fact, Business Development people should take note: before too long, a piece of the puzzle will involve asking which clouds are directly connected to which other clouds? 

Cloud computing is about to get much more interesting!

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