2009 has been a huge year for Cloud Computing. But some vendors such as SAP have only made stuttering progress, and some users feel that questions still remain. So what's really going on?
Cloud Computing has racked up a staggering number of column inches during 2009, yet confusion still reigns for many (even despite our efforts to demystify the technology!).
With almost every technology vendor and service provider having tossed their hat into the ring, it can be extremely difficult for decision makers to know who to opt for and whose Cloud credentials stand up to close scrutiny. But there is even confusion about some of the Cloud fundamentals.
As such, when some of the leading Cloud Computing providers joined a panel debate at the recent Business Cloud Summit, they had their opportunity to clear up the confusion - and substantiate their claims. Featuring the likes of Robert Whiteside, head of enterprise (UK and Ireland) for Google; Steve Sydes, vice president and MD of EMEA, Netsuite; Tom Fisher, VP Cloud Computing of Success Factors; Woodson Martin, vice president of strategy for EMEA, Salesforce.com; and Mark Taylor, senior director of developer and platform evangelism for Microsoft, the panel fielded questions from Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor of MyCustomer.com and editor of BusinessCloud9.
Larry Ellison of course infamously slayed the term 'Cloud' in a public rant recently, colourfully complaining that it is an unhelpful term for describing software as a service technologies - and there was agreement from the panel that it has been abused in recent years and isn't necessarily illustrative of the potential benefits of these services.
Martin commented: "Cloud Computing’ is the most abused term in the IT industry since ‘virtualisation’. It’s probably easier to say what the Cloud is not than what it is. If you need to upgrade it, it’s not Cloud. If you need cap ex up front, it’s not Cloud."
"I don’t know if there’s a perfect definition of Cloud. You need to look underneath the marketing labels. You need to evaluate not on the basis of the category, but on what you’re trying to accomplish in your business," he continued.
"It’s a fairly generic term that lends itself to being abused by pundits, so much so that’s it’s become ubiquitous," agreed Fisher.
However, now that the word is in the public domain, it might not necessarily be a bad thing, suggested Martin. "People are concerned about security, viability, and portability. These are primary concerns for any CIO or business owner. If it’s the word ‘Cloud’ that gets you focused on how to solve the business problems you have, it’s working."
Who’s playing the game?
One big question that has been posed is whether the likes of Microsoft and Oracle would have even bothered with the Cloud if Google hadn't got involved. "That pressure is driving change," admitted Taylor.
"The reality is that just like the Cloud itself, the marketplace is shifting, the environment is changing so fast, the dynamics are different," said Fisher.
"Google has brought a number of products to market using Cloud technology, and choice is growing. Historically, it was hard for SMEs to compete with large vendors, as it was expensive to build those applications. Nowadays there are a lot more opportunities for SMEs to build applications and be a part of it, which can only be a good thing in terms of consumer choice," added Whiteside.
"The next competitor for Microsoft and Google could be two guys in a garage in China developing the next application. That's a good thing for business choice."
Sydes also suggested: "Disruptive technologies always coming through. It’s a lot tougher to move from one disruptive technology to another. History has shown that big players fall out, new players come in. Provided we give our customers what we want, there are opportunities. Microsoft and Google coming on board makes it a much wider, more aware form of technology."
SAP in the Cloud
Stop-start efforts to roll-out Cloud offerings from software giants such as SAP and Oracle have only served to make the Cloud market even more enigmatic, as the traditional players struggle to get to grips with the new platform.
"There have been a number of half steps. We’ve seen Oracle de-committing and focusing instead on fusion. All the major players are struggling. What it takes to be great as a Cloud Computing provider is different to what it takes to build a great on-premise platform," said Martin.
"SAP have made some pretty high-profile attempts to launch their products and it hasn’t worked for them so far. It is a different technology and I just don’t see they’ve made great efforts in their attempts to understand it. By making the mistakes they have, they’ve made it better for us to understand what the Cloud can be like," said Sydes.
But Fisher added: "Products like SAP and Oracle are not going to go away – we have to coexist. The integration of those solutions – both Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to on-premise – is going to be important."
Barriers to adoption
Some critics have cited legislation as the main barrier to adoption of Cloud Computing for many businesses. When asked what could be done to overcome these issues, the panellists suggested there could be changes ahead.
"Lots of things will need to change. Cost savings are attracting people to working in the Cloud, but it requires a balancing of risk. We need to give comfort to people on a number of levels; we need to have clear statements about data protection. As businesses become more global the issues will change. We need to answer the challenges that face us today,"Whiteside.
"It should be a case of due diligence," insisted Fisher. "We need to encourage resiliency questions – that’s what will separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Cloud providers."
And acknowledging that the Cloud sector was still maturing and developing, Taylor added: "Standards will emerge from the industry and as the most pragmatic and efficient ways of doing things emerge, standards will come from that."
An industry that is still maturing, certainly. But will it shrug off the confusion to make even bigger progress in 2010? The Cloud sector is most definitely no stranger to questions.