The cloud computing battleground takes shape. Will it be winner-take-all?

The cloud computing battleground takes shape. Will it be winner-take-all?

Summary: This year has been one of relatively grand alliances between emerging cloud computing vendors as they fill holes in their capabilities and try to create appealing one-stop enterprise cloud services.We’ve seen major announcements so far from IBM and Juniper, Cisco/EMC/VMware, and most recently BMC and Salesforce. There are many other smaller initiatives that have formed as well and all of these efforts underscore several key points for those businesses trying to understand the real strategic benefits of the cloud including cost, agility, and scalability.In the end we have some momentus choices; here's how to take the high road when it comes to enterprise cloud computing.


You can bet that the industry will be playing for keeps yet businesses can increasingly reap real bottom line benefits. This year has been one of relatively grand alliances between emerging cloud computing vendors as they fill holes in their capabilities and try to create appealing one-stop enterprise cloud services.

We've seen major announcements so far from IBM and Juniper, Cisco/EMC/VMware, and most recently BMC and Salesforce. There are many other smaller initiatives that have formed as well and all of these efforts underscore several key points for those businesses trying to understand the real strategic benefits of the cloud including cost, agility, and scalability:

First, there is no single vendor that can today provide an end-to-end cloud computing solution for businesses, hence the reason for all the alliances. The cloud computing stack (facilities, bandwidth, compute power, storage, operations, management, etc.) is deep and comprises not only most of the elements that you would find in a corporate data center but a great deal more besides. This includes R&D, product development, support capabilities, developer networks, and capabilities such as compliance monitoring and additional layers of security and governance.

Second, it's unclear how the cloud computing vendor landscape is going to shape up. Everyone is in early days yet with only Amazon with anything approaching operational maturity, with Google and vying for the lower end of the enterprise. Making long-term decisions isn't a good idea in this environment, though using cloud computing tactically does make good sense at this point, especially if you're experimenting with private cloud technology that will likely translate well to public clouds, such as Eucalyptus.

Standards and Public/Private Seamlessness Will Drive Cloud Computing Maturity

Third, and perhaps most importantly, standards for cloud computing are just emerging and only cover today an incomplete portion of the cloud computing stack. This means scenarios where you can seamlessly move your cloud computing workloads from your private cloud and public clouds of choice are fairly far off still, unless you are willing to commit to one of the alliances that will enable it with proprietary approaches. This is the core scenario that businesses are interested in as dabble with cloud technology internally today and then want to move outside to get cost and quality advantages as they get more confidence in the cloud. But it's one that is currently rife with lock-in and those that remember the platform wars of the 90s are wise to recall.

Related: Cloud computing and the return of the platform wars

Let's also not forget the economics of online services, which apply generally to any cloud computing service that is self-provisioning (meaning users can sign-up and begin using it immediately). Infoworld's Zack Urlocker pointed out last week that Tim O'Reilly's discussion of the tendency of the end-game scenario for a given online segment to be winner-takes-all almost certainly applies to cloud computing as well:

While the benefits of cloud computing are enormous in terms of reducing costs, increasing utilization, and providing scalability, there's a significant risk of lock-in. Given the early state of cloud technology, there simply aren't adequate standards to offset this.

My fellow ZDNet colleague Phil Wainewright recently pointed out what I like to call the Faustian bargain of cloud computing approaches not based on open standards. There are, however, clear benefits to be had -- particularly with the real state of IT affairs in most organizations -- as long as critical issues like transparency and public scrutiny exist hand-in-hand (hint: they don't today):

It is no surprise that the heritage of buggy, unproven and unwarrantied software that businesses and individuals have been saddled with by the established vendors over many years has led us to instinctively mistrust any computing that forces us to rely on a third party.

Yet despite our understandable caution, it is far better to trust the cloud, where security and performance are continuously open to public scrutiny, where costs can be predictably mapped to actual value delivered and where the technology is constantly kept up-to-date for no extra cost or disruption to the customer. Provided the buyer makes proper due diligence and precautions, there is in my view no alternative form of computing that is more trustworthy.
Phil also cites a quote from an insightful post from Enterprise Advocate Vinnie Mirchandani that beautifully highlights the underlying conflict that cloud computing brings to the surface for both IT and the business side:
The incumbent, on-premise establishment on the other hand can overprice, under-deliver, cause massive overruns, suck out 80% of our IT budgets for routine work – but we need to keep trusting them.

So we have immature cloud computing technology, at least when it comes to enterprise-wide capabilities, incomplete standards, and the potential that market leaders will convert their existing online strengths (see Amazon and Google) into a winner-takes-all strategy, and you have a recipe for hesitancy and foot dragging on cloud computing of even the most enlightening IT thinker. Yet, most will agree that the current state of affairs in most IT organizations could be greatly improved by pay-only-for-what you use, switch-at-any-time cloud computing services that support swift and easy two-way public/private cloud migration.

The Cloud Computing High Road

The high road to get here, and by this I mean what will smart companies do that want to stay off the increasingly slippery slope of shadow IT, cloudsourcing dictated by the board, worst of all, potential lock-in to technologies and providers. They will insist on a some hard-won ground rules that we learned from the platform wars of yore. This won't be easy, just like it wasn't back then. But unlike the Web, for now cloud computing is being driven more by vendors and less by customers or even standards organizations, so far. That has to change. Here's what I believe will get things heading in a direction that will be good for the industry in the long-term and customers in particular. And yes, vendors eventually.

  • Widely accepted open standards. The ability to transition quickly and easily between different public clouds and your own private cloud will largely be driven by standards. Whether these will be de facto or format remains to be seen. Although it's often observed that standards promote the least-common denominator, for the foreseeable future, that will be an attractive place for most organizations.
  • Transparency and public scrutiny on cost, SLA, and security. Cloud providers today don't offer much scrutiny into their actual operations and technology stacks since this can reveal competitive advantage they'd otherwise prefer not to share. Insisting on identification products being used internally and access to feeds of the same management and uptime information that the provider is seeing will be the minimum required. The latter is making much more progress than the former with most public clouds providing some sort of online dashboard, even if it's still too high level today.
  • Complete cloud computing stacks. We are still learning what a complete cloud computing stack is and the continued announcement of major new features from many providers shows that the industry is learning what it will take to fully meet enterprise needs.
  • Technology agnostic clouds. While Google App Engine adding Java support to its cloud this year it a major step in the right direction, clouds-based on proprietary approaches such as's APEX language will have limited acceptability to most enterprises. True, enterprise-class cloud computing stacks will be as technology agnostic as it reasonable while still offering an on-ramp to next-generation approaches.
  • Seamless switching between public and private clouds. This appears to be the focus of the bigger enterprise cloud computing alliances, such as IBM/Juniper. And it's a smart bet that this is also the focal point of enterprise adoption; namely by providing a clear private cloud approach that can evolve gracefully into full, on-demand public cloud capability at the proverbial push of a button. Real choice has to built into the foundation of cloud computing for it to be a mutual win for customers and vendors.
  • Security, compliance support, and governance. Good security and governance are checklist items for any cloud but best-of-breed will help in a winner-takes-all scenario, especially in hybrid cloud scenarios. Compliance is the odd-man out, however, since no cloud computing solution offers this today this as a major features (though they often don't preclude it). By this I mean explicitly supporting requirements such as the EU's geographic restrictions of the storage of citizen's personal information. The addition of cloud compliance support will help provider guarantee that the use of their product won't land them in a local court.

There are undoubtedly other enablers as well, especially on the technical side such as migrating vast amounts of data quickly into cloud environments. Gilder's Law will hopefully address this though other approaches, such as bulk physical shipments of data are becoming popular today for efficiently moving tens or hundreds of terabytes of business data to public clouds.

The bottom line: The cloud computing wars are just beginning and the stakes are enormous as an estimated $350 billion to a $1 trillion dollar new business and technology market heats up. You can bet that the industry will be playing for keeps and yet businesses can increasingly reap real bottom line benefits. Provided, that is, if they keep clear heads and insist on ground rules that work for everyone.

Related: Eight ways that cloud computing will change business.

Is proprietary IT back in vogue with cloud computing? What is your organization's take?

Topics: Virtualization, Cloud, Hardware

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  • You can't be a good consultant if you can't even mention MS

    If you really think MS is irrelevant in cloud computing then you have some serious bias issues to work out.

    The fact that throughout your entire blog you can't even get yourself to mention MS or Azure even once is telling.

    Oh well, it is guys like you that end up eating crow anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter what people like you say or think...
    • Oh yeah MS hyper-V

      VMware built on Open_Source rules the Virtualization market.

      Android rules over Windows Mobile.

      Google has the search on the web wrapped up.

      Firefox/chrome will be the main browsers.

      Google Chrome OS will rule netbooks & pick up the Enterprise customers looking for security & cutting cost on licensing from MS.

      You are wrong, leave MS out of it with the Lethargic security hole riddled Windows along with the Windows bloated out worm hole server.

      Linux/Unix rules the Internet Servers.

      The only numb-nuts left are preaching about the precious desktop OS.

      So long Windows, welcome in Chrome OS... from Google all OPEN_SOURCE and it will be successful just like google period!

      • Wow, you rely a lot on Vaporware and empty predictions it seems...

        [i]Firefox/chrome [b]will[/b] be the main browsers[/i]

        Will they now? Do you have [b]any[/b] proof?

        [i]Google Chrome OS [b]will[/b] rule netbooks & pick up the Enterprise customers looking for security & cutting cost on licensing from MS.[/i]

        Ahh. The Chrome Dumb Terminal OS Vaporware (tm) that [b]will[/b] rule. LOL, just like Linux [b]will[/b] rule netbooks, right?

        Hey, here's another great prediction. So how did [b]this[/b] one work out for you guys...?

        [i]No, really, this time it [b]will[/b] be different, I promise...[/i]

        • BARE-METAL replacement NO vapor

          It is about getting rid of the HARDWARE layer.

          And yes it will be successful, data-security is the future and Google/Open_Source technologies is paving the way.

          MS will have to innovate another vision, because the one they have now is like single threaded Operating Systems.
          • Then you really do not understand

            the nature of computers in the business/consumer world?

            Once you reach an understanding, you might view your posts in an entirelly different way.
      • Many have come, many have tried, many have conquered, many

        have failed, many will sit back and laugh that the "cloud" entertainment that is beginning. And the last statement is hilarious, and I bet Mac and MS are laughing. BTW be careful Google has more stinkers than shiners, the knee pad crowd tend to "ignore" those. Just foder the more realistic crowd
      • All hail Google

        I can't wait to give all my inner most secrets and data to Google!

        Yeah. Right.

        Do you honestly have *any* idea what you are even talking about?

        "[i]Google Chrome OS will rule netbooks & pick up the Enterprise customers looking for security & cutting cost on licensing from MS.[/i]"

        Security wise, Cloud Computing is a nightmare. You are now trusting Google to Physically secure your data, and virtually encrypt it, back it up, and pray to God they don't loose it, or no one steals it. Physical security is a major player in information security, and to trust someone else with that is a very bone headed move. Security on the client side might be grandiose, but on the server side... Well... Why do I see stolen or lost data rates rising?

        I know for a FACT you wouldn't trust Microsoft if they were doing this, so why do you so blatantly trust Google? Because they're open source? Is that why? Having an open source monopoly is ok?

        I may be a numb nut somedays, but I sure as hell will not throw my data onto the Cloud.

        And before I leave:

        Chrome cannot, and will not compete with Windows or Apple for that matter. The fact that you think a highly watered down, next to useless, internet required, dumb terminal appliance will knock out the full featured desktop OSs we know and love today is laughable at best.

        Microsoft, Apple, Intel, AMD, ATI, Seagate, Western Digital, etc will all continue to push the full featured desktop operating systems. [i]ALL[/i] their business depends on it.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Kool-aid...

        ...drinking much lately?

        If you truly believe the drivel you have just written then you must live a truly miserable life.

        You are wrong to leave out *any* options, and much to your chagrin, Microsoft is still an option and will be for the forseeable future.

        Have another glass of Kool-aid though, it'll help you feel better.
    • Things are changing:

      I can move my cell number to any carrier.
      I can run Firefox on any desktop.
      I can run Google apps from any browser on any Desktop.

      Will I be able to use all of an Azure app's features on any browser on any desktop? Or will their be, 'limitations' in non-IE browsers and/or non-MS-OS Desktops?

      I wonder if MS can really adapt to way things are headed, or will MS follow the Music and Newspaper industries' lead of trying to resell the same old thing in a new, tightly controlled wrapper?
      • M$= NON-secure OS w/a Vapor Cloud! Secure= Linux Only! :D

        At least the Canucks have it right! :D

        Secure = Inpenetrable Fortress, ability to withstand attacks on multiple fronts!

        M$ Windows, an OS w/ Fish Net Stocking Hoes big enough for Steve Monkey Man Balmer to dance and sweat through!

        Apple's OS-X Hybrid Microkernel and Unix/BSD cloned Macro Kernel. Only slightly more Secure than Windows. Mainly because both companies strive to maintain control of your computer for you. Along with leaving gaping holes for themselves and doors wide open for Hackers too!

        Linux today is the most Secure OS on the Planet. Only been infected once and that was in a lab (not in the wilds). The Kernel contains the only Secure Kernel written by the NSA. SecureLinux is in every Linux OS kernel. Including Ubuntu, Red Hat, IBM's Super Computers, many Stock Exchange Systems, Most Banks, over 90% of HPC Clusters, majority of top 100 Super Computers, the web is owned by Apache Servers, Google Search (that over 70% of you use) runs on SecureLinux, their Cloud, many cars, HDTV's, Game Consoles PSP, PS3, Palm Cell Phones, Android OS Phones and Google's Future Chrome OS.

        Note too that NSA, DOD, and DOE now run solely on Linux. IBM's 1.8PFLOPS Roadrunner Super Computer, built for the DOE is the most powerful computer in the World today. So what OS do you think it runs on? Sure as Hell isn't Windows Vista, 7ista or OS-X!!!

        But that's not the only reason Open Source rules your Search Engine, your future Cell Phone, your car, your bank, your stock exchange, medical and scientific research, Credit Card Processing Main Frames and the only OS you will ever be able to trust, to go on the web with, in the future! ..Chrome OS

        Google's Chrome OS promises to be the first OS to be distributed on a major scale, that's completly SECURE, that completely isolates your web experience from your hardware and OS Kernel. Each application runs in it's own applet virtual machine, on absolutely any hardware you'll ever have, using all required API's in secure containers.

        The director of the FBI recently almost fell for a Banking Spoof. He says you should never use Windows for shopping on the web or trust it for banking. Use a Linux Live DVD!!! Why? ...M$ is too easy to spoof, trick or get through it's gaping holes. Left by it's creator, so it can always get back in and out w/ your info.

        ...And you idiots have the nerve to accuse Google of something only M$ is capable of doing! ....Compromise your Security in the Clouds!!! ;)

        BTW... keep using your M$ ActiveX and VBS Scripting in the Azure Colored Cloud and Linux will be there to pick up the casualties as you all drop! Linux and Open Source... it's everywhere you are or ever want to be and don't know it!
  • Happy to mention it, Azure is a fine cloud platform

    Hi Qbt,

    I even put Azure in the sweet spot in the middle of my cloud computing spectrum this year, making them ideal for a lot of cloud computing applications:

    But technology agnostic they are not. I singled out Google and above as example of improvement or need of improvement in this area. But didn't mention Microsoft, actually an oversight that if I had mentioned it, wouldn't have helped their story.

    So I harbor no ill-will at all against Azure and agree with others -- -- that Microsoft actually has the potential to be a major proponent of the open Web.


    • Technology Agnostic?

      How are you defining Technology Agnosticism? Microsoft's storage (Queues, Blobs, Tables, SQL, etc.) are based upon RESTful interfaces, which is, almost by definition, technology agnostic.

      Can you please elaborate?
      • try deploying a Java solution

        For the end user, REST is agnostic. For the
        developer of a solution, Azure = .Net on a Cloud.
        You need to develop on Windows, deploy on
        Windows, use SQL Server, etc. The Azure tagline
        is "Work on the dev technologies that you already
        know." This is aimed at existing Windows
        • ROFL - a Java solution

          Tried to deliver one the other day. The bright sparks had written calculations in a Java applet. Fine running off the server and then they wanted to distribute to offline people on CD.


          Unfortunately the large, slow, cumbersone, and buggy Java runtime is not installed on over 90% of the world's computers. Suddenly they have an app that's real difficult to use without installing Java.

          Just say no...

        • .NET is not a Windows only option.

          There has already been much work done to get .NET working (and available to development) on Linux and there is much work being done to get it onto Apple platforms.

          Read and learn:

          • -1 Problem with mono (and moonlight)

            MS is very, very careful to make sure Mono Rev = .Net Rev - 1. Same goes for Silverlight/Moonlight. Its MS's way of playing nice with open source. I see it as using a monopoly to hold back the competition by never allowing the latest and greatest to run on anything but an MS OS. And yes, MS has a monopoly on both .Net and Silverlight. They only release required info to the open source versions after MS is done with the version.
      • tech

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  • Private cloud

    For the organization that would like more security and peace of mind, you can build your own cloud using low cost software such those mentioned below :-
  • Hinchcliffe represents the concerns of large corps

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I started to write a big comment here but realized that it might best serve to blog elsewhere about your article instead. See for some provocative reactions to cloud mobility and IT trust.
  • RE: The cloud computing battleground takes shape. Will it be winner-take-all?

    It will be a few more years for the cloud computing to really take over. There will be public cloud and private cloud. But it think different flavors will co-exist for a long time.