Structure 09 was a great event for many reasons, but the best might have been its confirmation that cloud computing really has made great advances in the past year. It seemed every attendee noted that while last year’s conference was spent discussing the what and why of the cloud, this year rightly focused on the bona fide use cases and methods for improving a legitimate paradigm. Even Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, appears to have softened his stance on cloud computing. So, why the change in tone?
There are a number of factors driving cloud computing’s enhanced perception. The first is that major vendors have made significant cloud plays in the past 12 months. Most notably, Microsoft and VMware both have developed large, multifaceted cloud offerings in Azure and vSphere, respectively. Beyond that, quite literally every large enterprise IT company has either clarified its cloud strategy or at least made some semblance of an effort to enter the space. IBM, HP, SAP, CA, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Akamai, EMC, Red Hat and the list goes on — all have at least some presence in the cloud, with some (IBM and HP especially) selling broad portfolios of products and services.
And then there is the ever-improving feature set of Amazon Web Services. It could be said that AWS created the cloud computing market with its introduction of EC2 in 2006, and the company has become the cloud poster child since. With much of the spotlight still focused squarely on Amazon, its hits and misses are transferred to the paradigm at large. Fortunately for everyone else, Amazon has had more hits than misses.
The growing prevalence and use of social media also has played a big role in legitimizing the cloud. Although large sites like Facebook and Twitter still must invest heavily in infrastructure, they do leverage the cloud where it is feasible to do so. More importantly, though, is the possibility all startup web sites face: that they could become the next big thing. As they strive to achieve Facebook-like success without Facebook-like funding, many web entrepreneurs are looking to the cloud to ensure their infrastructure investments parallel demand, instead of preceding it.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, is the world’s catastrophic economic situation. Revenues have nosedived, and IT budgets have been slashed. While not every company is willing to move to the cloud right now, every company worth its salt is considering how it can benefit from cloud computing. Businesses are excited about saving money, and IT vendors are pitching cloud solutions to help them do it.
By the time Structure10 rolls around, Microsoft Azure will be commercially available, and the fate of Sun’s cloud platform should be clear. There will be countless more use cases to reference and nascent efforts like cloud computing standards and security will have matured, along with buzzworthy ideas like hybrid clouds. I am looking forward to that discussion, whatever it entails.