In the last few weeks I’ve been trying to get a handle on The Cloud (not the company, but the computing services approach) and the ramifications of the almost inevitable rise of this way of doing … well, everything. When you get past the mists of the new acronyms (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS for example) what looms is a “disruptive” technology, and it’s going to be a huge game-changer as far as I can see… [See Updates at bottom]
When I say “disruptive”, I don’t use the term lightly.
Cloud computing is going to decimate IT departments. It’s going to create enormous headaches for legal departments, especially in regulated industries (such as Big Pharma, Credit Card Transaction Processors, Medical Device Technology, and so on). It’s going to alter not just the way everyone does business, how businesses are run, but even the way businesses are built. It’s going to change the landscape of the entire computing marketplace, in some ways that are very hard to predict and others that are child’s play.
And I think that few people are aware of just how massive the change is going to be, or how far-reaching the changes are going to be.
We’re going to see the loss of just about every high end PC manufacturer (and possibly even Apple’s bigger machines) — or at the very least a polarization of the types of machines offered for sale. Software houses are going to evaporate almost overnight. There’s going to be such carnage…
How this is handled by society is, I think, up for grabs – it’s anyone’s guess.
So. How did I get to that declaration of an impending apocalypse? (One thing’s clear: there are going to be lots of really bad puns floating around involving dark Clouds on the horizon, every silver lining having a Cloud, Clouding the issues, it’s going to be Clouding over tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… and so on.)
What exactly is the Cloud?
In the last decade or so, any time someone created a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or drew up a graphic in Microsoft Word (or in any of the other Office type packages) and if they needed to represent the Internet the most common symbol was a cloud. Plain and simple.
Now the cloud symbol is coming to mean something much vaster, much more powerful.
Cloud computing services are being offered by specialized service providers and already they are diverging into those who specialize in providing access to hardware, those who provide access to software, and those who provide access to “platforms” that run on the hardware and enable the software to be run (or developed).
The implications of this change to the way that IT is implemented everywhere (business, academia, government, even personal computing) are quite astounding.
Let’s say you’re a senior manager in a software house and you need to give your software developers much more powerful computers — more processing power, more memory, bigger hard drives — and the latest development environment — the latest version of Visual This and Java That. Under the “old” way of doing things you’d have to be able to get estimates of the cost, justify the expenditure, and if you got that approved, get the procurement process under way (if you’re lucky you just pass that off to someone else), devise a timeline for obtaining and installing everything, and so on and so on.
Not if you’re operating using Cloud services. Connect using a Web front end to the services provider’s selection page, and check off all the things you need – not PCs, not specifications for hard drives and RAM, not core counts, not software licenses – but the total processing speed capability you want, the total available memory you want, the total drive space you’ll need (maybe with individual allocations but more likely just as a giant pool that your guys can access on a whim), the software you’ll need access to, and so on. A handful of clicks, provide your company’s authorization for billing, and you’re done. In a matter of minutes you’ve completed a task that would have taken days — maybe even weeks — under the old way of doing things.
And there probably won’t be a single delivery to your site. Everything will be available within minutes, and all online through your wireless connection, and the connections your development guys use. Your guys might not even be in the same building. Or in the same town. Or on the same continent.
Need to change the documentation environment from Office 2003 to 2010? Check a few boxes, click to authorize billing by the services provider, and the provisioning is done. The next time your content management team go online, they’ll have the new environment. Need an extra 100 terabytes of storage space? Check a box. Need to ramp up CPU power to 4096 cores per person? Check a box. Need available memory to rise to 50 petabytes of RAM per person? Check a box.
Need all of this, but only for three weeks? Check a box. At the end of the period, everything will revert to what you had before, if that’s what you want. Why pay outright for stuff you only need for three weeks? Need it for an extra week after all? Check a box.
Want backups encrypted and stored beneath some hundreds of feet of mountain or in a concrete bunker? Check a box.
No longer will you need to justify all those extra resources as a capital expenditure — it will probably almost all come under the heading of operating expenses (and billed monthly for as long as you use them).
All you need on your end is a client computer (who cares what type — Mac, PC, Linux box, graphics workstation, tablet, eBook, smartphone) that can either be “thin” (minimal capability) or “fat” (something akin to today’s workstation), and a fast wireless connection to a high speed, large capacity network that connects to your Cloud services provider(s).
Once you’ve done with the resources, you simply free them up for another of the Cloud services provider’s clients.
The wi-fi is going to have to be more powerful, but that’s a given anyway — the path to very powerful wi-fi is already well established. Gigabit technology is already with us and it’s only going to get faster. And more ubiquitous. You could be on a train and doing all of this. In a car. In a plane. On a boat (sorry, ship). IN SPACE. (NASA has already tested a deep-space communications network that’s modeled on the Internet — four years ago.)
That will mean your company doesn’t need high end servers or even anything more powerful than a fat client per person. The Cloud services providers (CSPs) won’t be buying traditional servers either – they’ll be installing swathes of blade servers (and whatever succeeds them — Cray banks, perhaps?).
The company also doesn’t need any IT staff other than a local guy to install new clients and maybe troubleshoot a few local problems (which will probably be “fixed” by just swapping in a new client). Systems administrators will only exist in the employ of the CSPs – you don’t need them locally.
Updated software? Any regression testing will be undertaken by the CSPs and the updated resources made available in any number of ways to clients. Need to go back to Office 95 for a month for some bizarre reason? Easily done.
And because you as a CSP client don’t have to buy anything outright (other than the clients – and with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) becoming more popular, you probably won’t even need to do that) or install anything, the infrastructure changes markedly.
Two guys with a great idea and some financial backing will be able to set up a multi-billion dollar company with massive computing resources and hundreds or thousands of staff spread around the world in a matter of hours (remember that HR departments have been outsourcing their work for years now, as has Payroll, Accounting, etc). And they will be able to dissolve the company once they’ve made their billions (maybe even trillions) as they move on to the next project. Maybe by the end of the week.
The carnage is going to be massive. Whether people who are on the bottom rung of the many ladders will be able to handle the sudden and unpredictable upheavals is anyone’s guess. Already Africa is being hailed as the latest India as far as outsourcing is concerned.
“Crowd-Fabbing” may become the new cottage industry to replace the current mass production facilities located in Asia — who can tell? (It’s a logical development of the crowd-sourcing concept, after all).
Software development and licensing such as has been practiced by Microsoft and others may cease to exist altogether. The licensing will be handled by CSPs so that department will evaporate — and when the applications are not installed on your local machine there’s little or no opportunity for piracy.
What we’ve known as “personal computing” may even be relegated once more to a hobbyist pre-occupation (the way it was in the 80s).
Or maybe there’ll be a version of “open” CSP that’s a distributed interconnected matrix of like-minded individuals who have invested their own money in hardware, software and bandwidth to allow a new kind of “small” business that can still compete in the marketplace, probably filling niche requirements that the big boys disdain.
Even hacking will be affected — much of what happens today does so because of the patchwork of vulnerabilities shared by hundreds of thousands of systems throughout the interconnected world. Chances are the CSPs will be using Virtual Machines as a legal requirement to be able to fulfill contracts that are covered by federal or other government regulatory requirements, which is one way to isolate and restrict the activities of hackers.
The nature and the speed of the changes that are going to come (inevitably) are really anyone’s guess. There are some obvious ones (such as those I’ve touched on in this rambling post) and I have no doubt there will be some totally out of left field.
One that’s been very quiet in recent years: the use of software to generate patentable new kinds of electronic circuit (even maybe new electronic components — one of my favorites is the memristor, which has implications for neuromorphic engineering; look out for that one).
Just one thread of many that are barely visible now but are likely to be front and center in the near future…
Microsoft unveiled their latest “cloud”version of Office:
They’ll still support a boxed version for those who want it, but clearly their head’s in the clouds already… BFG
HP are urged to dump their PC and printer products and focus instead on the Cloud and business services:
HP are a big PC player so if the writing is on the wall for them (as a survival issue) then this could be a tipping point. We’ll see. BFG