As luck would have it, I knew nothing about Larry Ellison’s rant at the Churchill Club on Sept. 21 about cloud computing when I wrote last week’s piece on cloud computing. I saw it on YouTube.
You have to admit that Larry is a heck of a showman, and the video is fun to watch. But whenever someone in that kind of situation starts to nit pick over definitions, it says to me that they’re hoping no one will notice that they might be a bit threatened by a next-generation technology.
Various analysts have pointed out the cloud is really an amalgamation of several technologies including Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). I can’t disagree with any of that, though it is a rather mechanistic summation, but my reaction to all this parsing of nomenclature is: So what?
Really, so what?
Culture and History
My take on cloud computing is different; it’s part cultural and part historic, and the two are twisted tightly together. The history of the technology industry is one of overcoming shortages, and cloud computing is part of that progression.
When storage and memory were in relative short supply, we kept data on tape and programs on punch cards. We responded by building more and denser capacity until the shortage went away, and we found ourselves with extra capacity at greatly lower costs. We had capacity to spare, and instead of wasting it, clever individuals built the relational database.
Computing power has always been short, but once we got into Moore’s Law, the curve kept delivering new capacity to burn every 18 months or so. Did we waste it? Some did, but enterprising souls built the graphical user interface and graphics cards, and they changed computing.
Along the way, as these improvements became ubiquitous and cheap, something magical happened. We started branching out, and the improvements didn’t stay in the confines of enterprise computing. They leaked out into a plethora of unimaginable products. Consider the iPod, for example: nothing but a tiny computer with a baby-sized disk. Talk about unintended consequences — I know some people were thinking about these devices, but there weren’t that many, and look at the effect this one device has had on our culture.
iPod is only the best-known example, but there are many others. For instance, our cars are now bristling with processors and memory for fuel injection, antilock braking systems, navigation systems (probably with a DVD in your trunk) and more.
But we are not done.
Then it was bandwidth. Ethernet was an interesting standard, but it was slow. Bright minds turned their attention to networking, changed the way our applications use networks so that they use less bandwidth, and others made more of it available, culminating in the ultimate consumer bandwidth, the Internet. Tell me that hasn’t changed your life.
What’s different today is that we have a relative abundance of everything. If it comes to us as a service, we no longer think about all of the provisioning and cost that was once part of our calculus. Platforms and applications coming in as a service ensure that bright minds can dream big, and who knows what they’ll come up with?
So far all of that abundance has enabled us to build not artificial intelligence — that appears to still be in the future — but artificial, or should I say synthetic, relationships. I mean social media here. The relationships we maintain through social media are available to us because the cost of maintaining them in time and effort and real dollars is so low that it might as well be free. The power of these relationships is that at any time, for the right reason, they can become full-blown active relationships that provide companionship, information, help or anything you might expect of a friendship. Of course, physical distance is much less of an issue than ever.
Our advances in technology have been the sometimes-surprising results of efforts to overcome scarcity and other adversities. Social media is a child of the ubiquity delivered through the Internet, and it is still in its precocious early years. Logically, social media is not the only advance we should expect from this ubiquity, though I can’t say what the next things will be.
So when I hear someone, even kiddingly, say that cloud computing is nothing new or that it’s just water vapor, it makes me think that someone isn’t getting it. We only have a few faint ideas about what cloud computing will ultimately yield, and that alone is why it is so important.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].