Forecast for the cloud: it will come in a million varieties

It became popular a few years back to claim that the cloud would finally redeem the oft-mocked prediction famously (and likely apocryphally) attributed to legendary CEO of IBM, Thomas Watson, Sr.: that ultimately there would be worldwide demand “for maybe five computers.” Some pundits asserted that with the emergence of super-scale computing offers from the likes of Amazon, Google and my company, Rackspace, all computing would inevitably move to these companies’ public clouds.

Well, don’t let the momentum of these super-clouds confuse you. Despite the imposing presence (and market share) of such giants, I believe that there is plenty of space – and more importantly demand – for not a few, or 1o or 20 or even a hundred of clouds, but millions. The future is a multi-cloud, hybrid-cloud world. Customers will use, alone and in combination, public clouds, private clouds, customized clouds, specialized clouds, local clouds, high-performance clouds, low-cost clouds, high-reliability clouds, technology-specific clouds, application-specific clouds — any type of cloud you can imagine. The cloud will come in millions of flavors and locations.

Amazon will be huge, but surrounded

Amazon deserves a lot of credit for unleashing the potential of the cloud. It showed how instantly provisioned, low-unit-cost, pay-for-what-you-use computing could ignite a new wave of innovation. Amazon’s cloud was originally built to run amazon.com, and the company exposed that technology’s power to the world. There is no doubt the ideas they exposed will dominate the future of computing.

Still, the cloud ultimately will be much bigger than any one company or any one cloud — or any five.

Does that imply that big public clouds go away?  Of course not. They will be bigger than ever and serve enormous needs.  But the variety of requirements will grow much faster than their capability to serve them. Users will turn to hybrid-cloud architectures – using the right cloud for the right job – and as a result lower costs while improving reliability and performance.

The hybrid-cloud era will be open

The hybrid-cloud era is going to be powered by the open source cloud operating system — OpenStack. (Disclosure: My company, Rackspace, co-founded  OpenStack with NASA.) It will drive ubiquitous innovation and unlimited deployments far beyond the abilities of any one cloud provider. And it will spawn an entire open cloud ecosystem — from Open Compute hardware to open source services and capabilities like Hadoop and Cassandra.  This is the power of the open cloud, a world where you have the ability to run exactly the cloud you need, where you need it, how you need it.

The use-cases are endless

The cloud has put computing at the center of every business and non-profit institution — and even every individual’s life. In the business world, not just internet companies, but those in healthcare, manufacturing, education, you name it, companies use computing to generate the next level of customer engagement. Amazon runs the most dominant cloud today and is innovating at a rapid pace, launching new features and new locations. But can it possibly meet all the world’s needs – can it be, in a word, everything to everyone? Well, let’s see:

Does the world need a GPU-optimized cloud for graphics work?

Does Hollywood need a local cloud optimized to render and move large files easily?

Does Nigeria need a cloud to advance its society?

Does Exxon need a private cloud to run its applications in house?

Does the healthcare world need a cloud in each hospital?

Does the FBI need its own cloud (for obvious reasons!)?

Will databases need customized clouds to run optimally?

The list could go on and on.  And new and particular use-cases are multiplying rapidly. There will always be new needs for the cloud — and there will be new clouds – millions of them – to meet those needs.

Lew Moorman is president of cloud provider Rackspace. Follow him on Twitter @lewmoorman.

(c) 2013, GigaOM.com.

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