Why success could stymie cloud's giants

Cloud's mega providers could end up stagnating because of their size, but innovation will just shift elsewhere, says Lori MacVittie

The massive expansion of the major cloud providers is hampering their ability to innovate. But that stagnation will allow creativity to blossom elsewhere, says Lori MacVittie.

Looking at how popular hybrid cloud computing has become as a topic and the slowing rate of change in mega-providers such as Amazon and Google, it looks as though the public cloud become a teenage wasteland. It will be like that part of your life when you're caught between maturity and childhood, fitting neither fully and just treading water.

Cloud is already beginning to stagnate because of the sheer size of the largest providers that have been leading with new services. As the volume of transactions flowing through a provider grows, and the customer base broadens, it becomes increasingly difficult to innovate.

Standardisation will begin to take hold instead, which leaves enterprises wanting more. As a result they will innovate or turn to smaller providers that are more willing to take chances and introduce new features, which will help them grow in what is really a very limited market.

New cloud coalitions
So now is the prime time for network and infrastructure vendors to join forces with those smaller cloud providers and help them find ways of developing services that the mega-providers aren't willing or able to offer.

We have already seen the impact of the sheer size and growth of mega-providers. The result has been stagnation in the introduction of new services in the public cloud. First, providers offered a server infrastructure, then came auto-scaling and load-balancing services, but since then very little has appeared on the scene.

That stagnation is logical, as the more users of an infrastructure you have, the more disruptive it can be to introduce new services. Each iteration becomes longer because of the integration and regression testing necessary to ensure a new service does not harm existing services and disrupt thousands of live applications.

The growing calls for standardisation are also having an impact. As organisations continue to explore public cloud computing as an option for reducing costs and deployment cycles, firms necessarily become concerned with lock-in and rightly or wrongly see standardisation as the way to redress the issue.

Increasing pressure for efficiency
The pressure from business stakeholders to move faster and more efficiently is increasing on IT organisations. So using a public cloud computing provider may be seen as a waste of time, effort and money simply because these large environments cannot meet the demands of organisations in a timely fashion. Organisations want services that can not only be rapidly provisioned but integrated with existing infrastructure systems.

That stagnation coupled with an increasing focus on IT as a service is driving organisations towards...

...private and hybrid cloud computing models and towards smaller, more agile providers because of the need for more than just server provisioning as a service.

IT organisations understand that the provisioning of compute resources is just the beginning of a complicated process requiring integration of multiple systems, applications and infrastructure. Mega-providers today are moving slowly, if at all, towards providing such services.

Collaboration with smaller cloud providers
But IT is under pressure to provide that value now, and so firms are turning to private and hybrid cloud systems that entail collaborating with smaller but more agile providers. Private models and smaller cloud computing providers are better at innovating and serving more of an organisation's infrastructure and thus enabling a more rapid maturation of the models and a faster return on investment.

Smaller providers are more willing to adapt their offerings and their framework APIs to ensure a better chance of migration, which helps address — but not entirely remove — the issue of vendor lock-in.

That shift also affords infrastructure vendors an opportunity to hone their skills at providing products as services that can be easily exposed via provider frameworks or integrated into the underlying processes and systems that drive cloud-computing automation. Doing so provides real value to cloud-computing providers and direct customers embarking on private cloud initiatives.

The same infrastructure skills and frameworks can then be exploited on and off-premise, which helps build a value proposition for infrastructure and drives innovation.

Wasteland or maturity
Just as children inevitably arrive at a crossroads at which they either choose the path to maturity or continue to stagnate in a teenage wasteland, mega-providers are rapidly approaching a fork in the road that leads to continued innovation or stagnation.

But that situation does not mean that the cloud itself will stagnate. On the contrary, the decreasing pace of innovation among mega-providers will simply enable growth in other areas of the market that will continue to assist organisations down the path of virtualisation to a fully automated and efficient datacentre.

Stagnation at one end of the market almost always leads to innovation at the other. What remains to be seen is how mega-providers react to that innovation, as the traditional merger and acquisition route to consolidation does not appear to be a viable way round the problem.

Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.