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The Case for the Heterogeneous Cloud

What will be the challenges of this brave new world?

The last few weeks have been rife with turmoil in the cloud computing space, thanks to everything from outages at Amazon to security breaches at Sony. This, in turn, has led to a number of articles conveying extreme predictions about what this turmoil means for cloud computing. The more bearish among us point to the turmoil as justification for a vision of cloud computing that relegates it to the periphery of IT as a fringe solution not suited for the mainstream. The more bullish among us shrug off the turmoil as growing pains, and zealously hold to a vision of cloud computing that sees public cloud computing as the de facto standard for IT service delivery, and traditional IT as a rare and unfortunate occurrence. Both of these views reflect a naiveté born out of passionate dogmatism. If history has taught us anything about technology adoption, the future of cloud computing likely will be richer and more complex than either of these viewpoints espouse. It won't be all or nothing. The cloud will be heterogeneous.

In his seminal work entitled, "The Innovator's Dilemma," Clayton Christensen outlines a pattern of technology adoption and proliferation that closely resembles Darwinian evolution. Innovative technologies like cloud computing start out by being less capable and less reliable than the technologies they supplant. They also tend to disrupt the economics of entrenched technologies by being more affordable. Over time, their capabilities improve to the point where they reach a price/performance tipping point. They may not provide all the capabilities of the entrenched technologies, but they provide just enough, given the costs of those capabilities, that customers adopt them in vast numbers. Geoffrey Moore, in his influential work, "Crossing the Chasm," adds another perspective on this dynamic. Over time, as these new technologies become mainstream, they begin to specialize to address ever-increasing niche needs. Think of the Cambrian explosion, but with silicon. Variety rules the day, and customers have a number of choices from which to pick the one that's just right for them. As the technology moves beyond the mainstream, this trend eventually reverses, resulting in very few survivors battling for fewer and fewer customers. The cycle repeats over and over again, and the duration of the cycles gets shorter and shorter with every iteration.

What does history teach us to expect about the evolution of cloud computing? Well, for one, we should probably stop referring to "the cloud" and start referring to "clouds," because there will be many of them, each designed to address a variety of IT needs in terms of reliability, security, performance, and cost. Today, the landscape consists of on-premise Infrastructure as a Service private clouds, off-premise Infrastructure as a Service private clouds, public Infrastructure as a Service clouds, private Platform as a Service clouds, public Platform as a Service clouds, and Software as a Service. It sounds like a lot, but imagine a world where each of these existing types are specialized to address a particular vertical industry need or a different set of regulatory environments. The virtual data center of the future will consist of a plethora of cloud computing environments hosted on-premise and off-premise, and integrated to deliver a responsive and cost-effective IT service fabric. In some instances, those clouds also will sit right next to legacy non-virtualized computing environments and be expected to work well with them.

If the future of cloud computing is heterogeneity, what will be the challenges of this brave new world? In a word, the challenge will be management. Managing these environments, containing costs, and integrating these various clouds together effectively will prove a significant challenge - one that will be exacerbated by the real-time nature of the cloud computing paradigm. Make no mistake, however; the enterprises that effectively address this challenge will be the winners. Those that don't will quickly be forgotten in the annals of history.

More Stories By Dave Geada

Dave Geada is the CEO of Buzzoink, a mobile search SaaS start-up that delivers advertising solutions to food retailers by enhancing the in-store shopping experience and building brand loyalty. He has over 15 years of experience in technology marketing, working for name brand companies like Computer Associates, Network Solutions and VeriSign. For the last seven years Dave has been marketing cloud computing solutions to both SMB and Fortune 5000 customers at companies like Quest Software, Rackspace and StrataScale.

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