The future of cloud computing

I hadn’t written about cloud computing since well before I was a Nieman Fellow, but little seems to have changed. In writing Can an Open Cloud Compete? I found that remains the dominant company in cloud computing, it’s still too hard for companies to switch from one cloud to another, and the cloud remains expensive and difficult to maintain. I’m not entirely sure how effective the cloud is either — much has been made of Zynga’s use of a ‘hybrid’ cloud strategy, where it starts its games on’s cloud, and when they’ve stopped experiencing exponential growth, it pulls them in house.  But I’ve been playing Zynga’s Empires and Allies, and its performance is terrible. If it’s on Amazon’s cloud, Zynga isn’t getting the service it needs; if it’s on Zynga’s private cloud, Zynga should farm it back out to Amazon.

Yet there’s a stirring level of spirit amongst the people working on this open source cloud, OpenStack. Passion doesn’t fit into a technology-driven piece like mine, but conviction is the unspoken story here. The 600 or so developers who attended the OpenStack conference know about Linux, maybe worked on it, and they see the cloud emerging as the dominant form of technology innovation for at least the next few decades. The cloud will produce the next Bill Gates, the next Steve Jobs, the next Larry Ellison — and the next Linus Torvalds. Some of the people in attendance undoubtedly see themselves in one of those roles. Others were there because they feel like they’re part of something bigger than they are. Listen to Chris C. Kemp, whose keynote speech, OpenStack 2015, was the source of my story. Kemp told me that

every single company that sells software is reinventing itself as a service company. We’re seeing 25 years of software moving to a Web service — look at Microsoft Office. It doesn’t matter that there will be iPhone apps, mobile apps….the point is that the data is in the cloud and there are Web APIs behind them. Every software company is becoming a cloud company.

What is happening now is just a prelude. Here’s a comment from Jonathan Bryce, who co-founded RackSpace’s cloud:

This isn’t about 2015 for me. This is about 2050. This is what our economy and society is doing right now, going through this incredible shift where computing and data are in every single thing we do. Amazon will have a piece of it, but no way that anybody has it all locked up right now.

Who was the leader five years into the PC or mainframe or the automobile? There’s so much opportunity here. It’s such a massive shift, it will affect every company, every nation, every human…it’s way too early to declare winners. Amazon has done amazing things. They inspire us and push us on, but what the cloud is going to be in five years is very different from where it is today.

Heady stuff. I’ll be interested to see if this passion wanes over the next few years.

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