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Four Key Takeaways from Structure 2010

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It was a long week at this year’s Structure conference, but, as always, I learned a lot. Last year’s event confirmed my beliefs that the community had moved beyond asking what cloud computing is and was moving toward asking how users can best leverage it. This year, with two full conference days and a first-ever Structure LaunchPad, I learned even more.

1.  The Future of Cloud Computing is BRIGHT

There were 11 startups in the LaunchPad event, all of which have promising offerings. From my perspective, the standouts were CloudSwitch (which won), Datameer, Northscale, Greenqloud and Nimbula. The first three have been making news for a while and have publicly available products, but the latter two offer very unique propositions.

Greenqloud is advancing my personal cause of truly green cloud computing in lieu of energy-efficient cloud computing. Set for a limited beta release later this year, the Icelandic cloud provider will derive the entirety of its energy from clean sources (hydropower and geothermal power).

Nimbula, for its part, brings a strong cloud pedigree to its internal-cloud solution, which bodes well for success in a crowded market. Its management team includes individuals responsible for building Amazon EC2, and former VMware co-founder Diane Greene is on the board of directors.

2. Cost Is Not as Important as Capabilities

I heard it from the members of my panel on PaaS, I heard it from Werner Vogels in his keynote and I heard it from Verizon Business’s Joseph Crawford in a late-day panel on the future of the cloud. That’s not saying cost isn’t a factor, or that there isn’t room for improved pricing models, but rather that cloud customers simply expect to save money from cloud computing. Increasingly, the focus has shifted to the capabilities and service levels of cloud offerings. This isn’t too surprising for anyone who has been watching cloud providers continue evolving their offerings up and down the stack, but it’s nice to hear some of them publicly acknowledge this shift.

3. Physical Infrastructure Doesn’t Really Matter…

Or, it’s the most important part of any data center — cloud, scale-out or otherwise. In various discussions throughout Structure, I heard (generally from cloud platform providers) that physical infrastructure shouldn’t matter at all to cloud users. The stance makes sense if you consider that Heroku hosts its platform on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft runs Windows Azure in its own data center and vendors like Oracle and Appistry run on-premise. Compliance levels, runtime environments and management tools matter, but the servers just need to keep running. VMware CEO Paul Maritz called cloud the new hardware.

For those operating large data centers, however, physical infrastructure might be more important than ever. There’s a reason Tilera and Quanta believe they can sell their low-power 512-core server, and why Cisco is building a cloud systems business that spans from servers to switches to routers. And although Facebook’s Jonathan Heiliger complimented AMD and Intel on their processor advances over the past year, he didn’t back off his Structure 09 statement that they couldn’t keep up with Facebook’s needs.

4. It’s All About the Connections

The Structure agenda was chock full of great content on stage, but many attendees find that the real value lies in making new connections, reconnecting with old ones and doing business as a result. I’ve heard of multi-million-dollar deals emerging from the last two shows, and several attendees present this year suggested they might have equally lucrative deals and partnerships in the works after this year’s event. I heard one VC convince another to take a second look at a potential investment. When the best minds, companies and VC firms in cloud computing convene in one relatively small conference center, they’re bound to figure out how to help each other and thus advance their common cause.

Question of the week

How can users can best leverage cloud coumputing?