BoxWorks 2013: Future of the hybrid clouds, datacenters still looks murky

Execs from Jive, NetSuite, and Rackspace theorize about what the cloud market will look like in the next few years.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Given how rapidly the mobile and cloud markets have evolved in just the last two to three years, is it even possible to make a forecast for five years from now?

To some extent, the answer is probably.

As further fodder for the cloudy debate, executives from some of the top enterprise tech firms bounced around their theories during a panel discussion at BoxWorks 2013 on Tuesday.

"You all know predicting the future is triviality itself," quipped Box chief operating officer Dan Levin at the start of the session, citing a string of poor technology predictions from media and financial sources of over the years.

(For example, Levin cited a forecast from Popular Mechanics back in 1949 that "computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.")

So what might exist (or not) in the next five to 10 years?

Corporate datacenters: Jive Software CEO Tony Zingale acknowledged that it will "take some time for security technology to catch up in the cloud."

Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier followed up that it might be difficult for some companies to let someone else host their sensitive data.

Napier asserted, "As networking technology advances, where it is stored doesn't matter as much as the performance."

Evan Goldberg, chairman and chief technology officer at NetSuite, remarked there will always be some cases where you have people who love to "hug" their machines.

Where data resides: DocuSign CEO Keith Krach reminded that many companies have their own "home-grown written systems developed over the years, so it's going to be a gradual migration."

Napier argued that performance will be the trump card, hinting that the fervor around the cloud might be justified. "

"It comes down to performance. Customers want things that are cheap, fast, and easy," Napier asserted. "As networking technology advances, where it is stored doesn't matter as much as the performance."

Goldberg noted that privacy is a major government and regulatory issue -- notably in the European Union -- which will continue to shape where data is stored.

Hybrid clouds: Goldberg predicted that "companies that start with the cloud are going to stick with the cloud."

At Jive, Zingale replied that 70 to 80 percent is "pure cloud business." But that remaining 20 to 30 percent is on-premise, which Zingale described as a reflection of a "heterogeneous world."

Krach suggested that the hybrid model trend has been encouraged by consumer influence, "being able to transact business anywhere on any device."

Mobility: Levin asserted that "no one in their right mind would choose to do an HTML5 app" at this point in time anymore, but he also acknowledged that we use browsers on tablets all the time.

Hinting more favor for native apps, Krach stressed the need to be as ubiquitous as possible, revealing that for DocuSign, the strategy is to be available natively across iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile.

IT Departments: "Developers drive technology changes," Napier said, specifying developers are the ones driving cloud adoption.

Thus, he predicted that IT departments in the future will not only "move at a pace they haven't moved at before," but will also be staffed by more developers rather than admins.

Death of email?: The use of email is not a cloud-based application right now, explained Zingale. But Zingale predicted communication via email inside companies will be "cut in half" over the next five years because it was never designed for cloud-based communication.

Infrastructure layers: Albeit they're arriving "slowly right now," Napier asserted open source technologies will dominate this space over time. Admitting it was a "self-serving" prediction, he specified OpenStack in his response.

Short-term forecast: Goldberg concluded he expects we'll see a "giant company" in Fortune 50 or 100 that is entirely cloud-based, running on NetSuite and Rackspace, using Box for file collaboration, etc. in the next five years.

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