Distilling market noise into market sense

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Cloud Computing anyone?

[Cloud Computing is the new buzzword, blogger Thomas Menguy tries to decipher its underlying concepts, the main actors, the business models and the implications for the industry ].

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Cloud Computing is everywhere, and begins to look like the next big thing. But the term seems to regroup a plethora of new and old concepts with no clear consensus about it: everybody seems to understand what it is but when asked, having a clear definition is not so easy (I know, I’ve tried recently…and miserably failed :-) ). Here is my attempt to give it some sense.

 

I’ll begin with some quotes grabbed from this nice video from the web2.0 expo

Everything that we think of as a computer today is really just just a device that connect to the big computer we are all collectively building…Cloud computing : how computing services will be delivered in the future

Tim O’Reilly

Chance for developer to no worry about “things” …business concerns, scaling concerns

Matt Mullenweg (WordPress Co-founder)

A way to deliver services rather than applications completely independent of platform completely independent of physical hardware and I hope it works.

Vamshi Krishna Mokshagundam

Ok, so to sum up those gurus’ words, cloud computing seems to be about:

  • Software Services deployment
  • Transparent scaling of those services
  • Reliability (no down time worry)
  • Monetization handling
  • Decorrelate the software from the physical hardware it is running on

After this helicopter view, we can try to be a little be more educated, reading this excellent article from ExplainingComputers about the cloud may help:

It describes a very good metaphor for all this cloud stuff:

In his book The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr compares the growth of cloud computing to the development of the electricity network around a century ago. Before that time businesses had to generate their own power and therefore had to choose their location based on the available means of generation, such as moving water to drive a wheel or a supply of coal. However, with the availability of a reliable electricity grid to which they could connect, firms were increasingly freed from such constraints to focus on the other aspects of their business.

In exactly the same manner we are today just about entering an age in which both individuals and organizations will be able to dispense with a large home computer or corporate data centre, and instead connect far leaner computing devices to cloud computing resources that will fuel their information processing requirements. It is therefore hardly surprising that cloud computing is also being referred to as “grid computing” or “utility computing”

ExplainingComputers about the cloud:

What a paradigm shift! Computing power data storage and services will soon be outsourced to 3rd parties.

Now getting back to the industry, Cloud computing seems to be the sum of two concepts

Software as a Service, or SaaS, perhaps you know it under another name : web 2.0

It can be described as desktop like application accessed within the browser (or a  RDA technology like AIR) and where the storage/processing is on dedicated servers.

Those services can be free or not, here are some notable examples:

  • http://www.salesforce.com/ : CRM for marketing/sales, per user monthly fee (9$ to 65$ a month)
  • The excellent http://zoho.com free for personal use then few bucks per month/per user for business
  • http://www.clarizen.com/ : project management software, per user monthly fee (around 20$ to 40$)
  • Even IBM is going this route with https://www.lotuslive.com/ a kind of hosted Lotus service (I can’t get prices…)
  • Of course : http://docs.google.com/ to store/share/edit office documents, free but has a paid version for enterprise. Of course Gmail is there also as Google web album (price depend on storage)
  • Adobe plays the game with https://www.photoshop.com/ a kind of “online” Photoshop elements to store share and edit your personal photos, free for simple use, from 19$ to 129$ a year to grow the storage, different services are proposed if you already own Photoshop elements or premiere elements. Adobe also provides an office online collaborative suite: https://www.acrobat.com/ free to use, but acrobat desktop is heavily advertized across the tool.
  • Apple MobileMe for photos, mail, events contact calendar shared between desktop and mobile (iphone) 99$ a year.
  • Microsoft answer to Apple: SkyBox/SkyLine/SkyMarket (MobileMe+Appstore for WinMob). Microsoft has also some offers, around Microsoft live, http://home.live.com/, and some plan for hosted exchange services, I don’t have any price point to compare it to “standard” Exchange installations

Of course I forget a lot of others, like Flickr, yahoo! services, etc.

All those services have in common:

  • Ease of use, not only for the service itself, but also for billing, maintenance, installation, deployment, etc.
  • Affordable, price depending on storage/number of user/services accessed
  • Neat and modern UIs
  • Packaged and well defined services

This is this last point that led some of those providers to open their infrastructures, putting in place the Next Big Thing :

Hardware as a Service, HaaS

Those SaaS providers have grown their infrastructure  to support scaling and reliability for their services…the next step is to open it and monetize it.

So here is HaaS where the business model is simply to sell some RAM/CPU/Storage/Bandwidth/some services according to the needs of the customer.

  • The real first One: Amazon EC2, part of Amazon Web Service (AWS) platform. A way to deploy and scale a web application, paying only for the resources it actually uses (prices are around 0.10$ to 0.80$ of cpu/hour, 0.10$ per GB transferred, 0.15$ per GB stored per month, 0.01$ per 1000/10000 PUT/GET requests).(side note: Adobe proposes LiveCycle ES on Amazon Cloud).  Amazon describes its solution as:
    • Elastic: user can increase or decrease their hardware requirements within minutes
    • Flexible: user can choose specification of each individual instance of computer power purchased
    • Inexpensive: no dedicated capital investment required
    • Reliable: make use of Amazon proven datacenter and network infrastructure.
  • Google of course is there (do your self a favor and read this about the AMAZING Google infrastructure) with Google App Engine , free for now but fairly limited
  • Little actors like MossoGoGrid or 3tera are popping out on the same kind of technology
  • IBM is jumping also with Blue Cloud
  • HP, Intel, Yahoo join forces on cloud computing research
  • For me Facebook is part of the game: easy way to deploy and monetize (?) social applications. Ning is another example (for social networks)
  • And of course Microsoft with Azure:

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Azure seems to be really complete with a new OS, great marketing materials etc…but as always with MS not really available yet. Business model is again identical: you pay what you use as resources.

 

image

See above a schema about those technologies. What is emerging is a new kind of OS capable to handle

  • faulty hardware,
  • load balancing,
  • heavy multiprocessing and parallelization,
  • virtualization technologies are key here (at least I understand the market cap of VMWare now!) ,
  • advanced storage technologies and databases.

Google has built its own stuff (the three core elements of Google’s software: GFS, the Google File System, BigTable, and the MapReduce algorithm), Microsoft too (and present Azure as it is : a new OS), Amazon, Yahoo and others are using some Open-Source initiatives like http://hadoop.apache.org/ .

A nice summary of what we can do with cloud computing, from the Yahoo white paper:

What does it take to get the Next Great Thing off the
ground?

Now:

  • Set up multiple replicas of a clustered data store
  • Set up a system for indexing
  • Set up a system for caching
  • Set up auxiliary DBMS instances for reporting, etc.
  • Set up the feeds and messaging between them
  • Write the application logic
  • Fairly complex system at first line of new code

Our vision:

  • Write the application logic
  • Use a hosted infrastructure to store and query your data

=> Or, as Joshua Shachter puts it: “The next cool thing shouldn’t take a team
of 30, it should be three guys, PHP and a long weekend”

Yahoo white paper

This is all well and good but where is the catch?

Many aspects are slowing this IT revolution

  • Concerns around privacy and collusion: giving all my (as a company) data AND processing of my critical business to Amazon and Google may lead to collusion, Google is no more the “don’t be evil” it may have been, nor Microsoft or Amazon…Or even worse if I am a service provider new entrant (hum say like Nokia with Ovi for example), I just can’t use Google Infrastructure for that! How can I trust Google about my competing usage of its own resources to deliver a service …that competes with Google own ones?
  • Concerns about stability. Most cloud vendors today do not provide availability assurances. This is particularly an issue with Mashups that need a set of web services hosted in various cloud computing environments, and many may stop working at any time. Seeing the MobileMe launch fiasco, Apple learnt how difficult it is!
  •  Concerns around security. The old dilemma: “should I put my money in a Bank or in my own building” …we all know the right answer now.
  • Regulation issues:  For Example in Europe, some countries require services and/or customer data be retained within a country’s borders.
  • This is new technology: even if simple, there is a learning
  • IT service may feel threatened: after all the tedious tasks of updating, backup, hardware handling are now externalized…

One key point seems to be that to be trusted cloud computing providers have to stop offering their own services and focus ONLY on providing a compelling and efficient cloud platform.

Where is the Mobile industry: client side?

As said by Tim O’Reilly in the first quote, ALL the devices are morphing to cloud access points, phones are on their way, MID and Netbooks are just showing it more clearly.

The iPhone is the first real device to access the cloud effectively, and what is really interesting about it is that the browser is not the preferred choice to access the cloud: the vast majority of non-game iPhone applications are simply optimized front-end to a dedicated  SaaS! I predict the same for Android Marketplace…and many software actors will pop out  around this cloud interaction.

Nokia is morphing into a cloud computing provider …but doing the whole stuff alone: Ovi being the infrastructure AND the service, and Nokia devices nice cloud front-end.

Time will tell if an actor alone can handle those three aspects, Google, Microsoft and Apple are also trying…

Where is the Mobile industry: server side?

Doing this overview I was really surprised to not see the “natural” actors of this new paradigm:

  • Who has a BIG infrastructure?
  • Who can link this infrastructure to the final devices/customer?
  • Who is deploying complex services to million of customers for decades?
  • Who handles directly the customer billing?

….hum you guessed it : our beloved CARRIERS!

Cloud computing would be a fantastic way for them to not fall in the dumb pipe category. Let’s face it, developing services has to be done by service providers, not operators (who wants to use its operator IM or mail? social network? photo sharing?) .

If carriers were able to leverage their fantastic cloud computing capabilities, they may stop developing sure-to-fail-services and monetize their pipe not only to the final customer but also smartly from the service provider ( NaaS seems to be a first attempt but I still don’t understand the business model). Perhaps a bold statement, I would be more than happy to have some carrier comments on this one!

Looking forward to your comments.

-Thomas

  • http://www.xero.com Rod Drury

    A really timely article.

    We believe carriers are the logical channel for cloud based services as they already have an online relationship with millions of subscribers, have substantial marketing resources and their traditional services are being driven to commoditization.

    Cloud applications provide the business driver for fixed line broadband, data plans for phones and data cards.

    http://blog.xero.com/2008/10/telecom-xero/

    Cheers

    Rod

    Xero – online accounting
    <a href="http://www.xero.com” target=”_blank”>www.xero.com

  • Thomas Menguy

    Hello Rod

    Thanks for the comment, and nice to see an expert sharing this vision.

    Do you see that coming with your carrier partners?

    BR

    Thomas

  • http://pgaval.wordpress.com Petros

    What a crystal clear view on upcoming technologies and offers!

    Thanks.

  • http://tmenguy.free.fr/TechBlog/ Thomas Menguy

    Thanks Petros :-)

  • http://www.onlinebackupmag.com HeatherR

    I use Google Drive for everything and hardly ever use MS Office anymore. Google Drive does not allow you to download a video to an iOS device as Dropbox does, so that's why I use dropbox for videos. I've used Evernote a bit and do enjoy having items available in it when I'm looking for them, but based on your post I think I need to use Evernote more.

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