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A crack in the madness of clouds

Sanity check 09?

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Besides providing some of the biggest technical innovation of 2008, the cloud also wins the award for most amorphous product definition. Few people define "the cloud" or "cloud computing" the same way, leading to market noise and a wealth of misinformation.

"The cloud" as a term really started as a metaphor for the "internet" and has since been bastardized to mean pretty much anything that isn't on-premise computing.

What will see in 2009? Sadly, not a miraculous understanding, but instead a glimmer of hope that the cloud can live up to the hype. In 2008 we were mostly able to break cloud computing (or the cloud - whatever you like) into the following segments:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service - operating system hosting with dynamic provisioning and theoretically unlimited resource scaling. A leading example is Amazon's EC2
  • Platform-as-a-Service - no infrastructure required hosting to develop and deploy applications. Examples here include Force.com, Heroku and Google App Engine
  • Software/Application-as-a-Service - where applications are delivered via a web browser. These examples include Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Gmail

Storage-as-a-Service hovered on the fringe in 2008 and I suspect that it too will become part of the cloud taxonomy in 2009.

Outside of cloud-y infrastructure we also have accessories such as tooling, including monitoring, configuration management and automation, as well as a never-ending supply of APIs to interact with every cloud service. These will become more relevant as cloud consumption increases. With this in mind, these are the masses of precipitation I think we should expect 2009.

Data-as-a-Service

Breaking away from database tables and silos, data-as-a-service will provide a way to consume disparate structured and un-structured cloud-based data across various networks.

For example, let's say I want to pull inventory data from Amazon S3 and user data stored in Google's Bigtable and join it in Salesforce.com through some kind of query. In the relational database world you would use SQL, but each cloud provider has implemented a slightly different database structure and API. Somewhere down the line this will have to get easier.

The ability to apply cohesion to disparate data regardless of what structure it's in or how it's stored could be the cloud's Holy Grail. Former Credit Suisse software analyst Jason Maynard has called this "data-as-an-answer" for its ability to provide insight beyond one silo.

I also think this could introduce a concept of cloud droplets, which will form micro-clouds or transaction points that form a larger computing environment.

In physics, a cloud droplet is very small compared to a raindrop. It takes about a million cloud droplets to make a single rain drop. In the same vein, I believe that we'll eventually get to a place where endpoints - or end-users - act as cloud droplets potentially in the form of peer-to-peer cohesion or possibly as a function of data federation.

Internal clouds

A "compute cloud" is a different animal according to the developers of Eucalyptus, an open-source, EC2-compatible infrastructure-as-a-service. Typically based on virtual machines, "cloud computing allows users to dynamically provision processing time and storage space from a ubiquitous 'cloud' of computational resources."

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