The cloud is a beautiful thing and one that has taken longer to arrive than folks were predicting in its birth 20 years ago. And the result is messier, and more interesting, than most folks had anticipated.
Cloud computing got its start as the Internet expanded and grew: in the late 90’s providing a software service over the web was known as being and Application Service Provider (ASP). Then came Software as a Service (SaaS) and for years Salesforce was the only sizable purveyor of this delivery model. In the late aughts, things exploded, with Platform as a Service (PaaS), Data as a Service (DaaS) and even Network as a Service (NaaS). And now we’ve settled on the moniker “Cloud Computing” to describe this unholy knot of data and software that girdles the globe.
There are now over 8 MM data centers worldwide, comprising 1.6 BN SF of space, housing over 75 MM servers, all, sharing data and software and many of them participating actively in cloud computing. And it is growing rapidly: spending on cloud computing in 2008 was $46 BN; by 2013 had grown to $150 BN.
Cloud computing is disruptive: about 1/3 of corporate IT groups report that they do not control SaaS related decisions in their company: when HR managers needs access to an HRM system, they sign up with a cloud provider, bypassing IT. This would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
And, cloud computing hides some secrets: buried in that global network of data centers I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, are more than 1200 mainframe computers, grinding out numbers.
The cloud comes in variety of flavors, and it continues to mutate as organizations and technology evolve.
First, there is the Public Cloud, that is apps and services at are available via the web from servers accessible to the public (Think Facebook, Yahoo or travel sites.)
Second, there is the Private Cloud – where an organization makes software and services available to its members via the web on a secure network. Members can access these offerings anywhere but only if they have access to the network.
Third, and most common, is the Hybrid Cloud, which is a mix of the first two variations. Most companies, even quite small ones, may use a mix of public offerings and services they have secured in their own private network.
There are three benefits running software in the cloud. First, it can save companies money, 88% of IT managers interviewed estimated that cloud apps were saving their firms money and 55% say that they led to increased profit.
Second, it gives firms greater flexibility to focus IT spend where it is most needed and the ability to pivot quickly. An organization might buy processing time on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for a massive research project, then ramp things down when they are done.
Third, the cloud provides redundancy and a natural structure with which to support disaster recovery and backup.
And, with all this cloud goodness comes some challenges. The first is complexity. The massive network of software and services, servers and datacenters and private and public networks that we have built around the world makes for an awful lot of complexity. And, with complexity, comes an increased probability of failure.
Second, is the issue of data governance, which we have begun to see play out in the last few years. The Internet be global but sovereign states are not and servers are subject to the regulations in the states where they reside. Europe has a quite different take on privacy than does the U.S. and so where a user stores its data matters. Ditto with surveillance.
The third issue with cloud computing is security, although this one is fuzzier than it used to be. Spreading your apps, data and processes around the cloud gives bad guys an increased number of access points to what may be confidential information.
Finally, there is the issue of efficiency. By some estimates, one in three servers in any datacenter are “comatose”, sucking down energy but doing no useful work.
Clearly cloud computing is here to stay. The only questions are what parts and how much of it will you use? Is it just one or more SaaS apps you subscribe and use and/or your own custom app built on a scalable cloud infrastructure like AWS, Azure or Google? Either way you will be in good company who all feel that adoption of cloud computing is as right as rain.