At MIT's Emerging Tech conference last week, I listened to frighteningly smart people debate the future of this old-is-new technology concept that we call "the cloud." Microsoft showed up too, to share its vision for cloud computing. Memo to Microsoft: From what I've heard, you don’t know cloud.
I looked at your early vision for the cloud, and frankly, I think IT veterans will see right through it.
Unfortunately for IT leaders and users, we are still very much in the land grab phase of cloud technology (You might say sky grab, but I have put a firm personal moratorium on cloud puns.) Almost every technology vendor is loudly trying to articulate its definition of cloud computing and strategy for it. This group ranges from VMware, with its elaborate plans for a cloud partner ecosystem unveiled at the recent VMworld show, to Microsoft, with a talk given at the MIT conference by Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer.
I am convinced Microsoft has the most to lose if the vision of cloud computing as an on-demand extra data center and go-anywhere user office comes to pass.
I am also convinced that Microsoft continues to ignore some of the reasons why end users and IT leaders are drawn to the idea of Web-based computing and the cloud in the first place.
VMware, Google, Amazon and a slew of others are working diligently to tap into the millions that can be made from enterprise IT departments who want to simply not deal with so much hardware infrastructure and software maintenance, or contract with cloud providers to tap into extra compute and storage capacity on demand.
When enterprises can be convinced of cloud computing on the availability and security fronts, which are both still very much under scrutiny today, we will see a select group of "super utility" sized companies dominate the cloud, agreed a group of panelists at the MIT conference, including VMware co-founder Mendel Rosenblum (fresh from his public departure from the virtualization giant); Amazon's CTO and VP Werner Vogels; and Salesforce.com's executive VP of technology, Parker Harris.
It's a when question, not an if question, whether this select group of super-big cloud providers becomes viable enough for enterprises, Rosenblum told the MIT crowd.
"The question is how far off is that," he said, noting that while the death of the IBM mainframe has been announced many times, on it ticks in the backrooms of many enterprises.
One really interesting question for both enterprises and consumers, of course, is what is the future of the operating system as we know it today, if the computing model changes to enterprises running even some, not all, of their work via the cloud, and consumers using mostly Web apps and apps and services in the cloud.
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