Ahh, the predictably irrational nature of technology hype cycles. We fall in love with a concept, bludgeon each other & the IT community to death with it, then wait – panting from our marketing sprint – for the sounds of the coming revolution. Invariably, we are greeted not by a roar, but by a slower, steadily-building drumbeat. Often, the reality eventually becomes deafening, but usually not until the marketers, pundits, and vendors have moved on to the next shiny thing.
Today, it’s all “cloud” all the time. The hyperbole over the impact of cloud computing has reached a fevered pitch. I recently fielded a question from an analyst as to what would happen “when all employees worked from home or coffee shops using public Internet access to reach all their cloud-based business apps.” My answer was, “when that happens, forget cloud companies…go long in Starbucks.” Seriously, people – can we have some reality mixed with our excitement?
Thankfully, this topic has lately adopted some common terminology that allows two people to have a reasonably coherent conversation – using Software, Platforms, or Infrastructure as a Service (SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, respectively) to delineate what in the world one is talking about. It doesn’t take much to see the success of SaaS solutions in the market. While we don’t have any pure SaaS offerings in our product portfolio yet, we are huge consumers of SaaS ourselves. Sales, HR, tech support, legal, marketing operations, product management, and other key business functions all utilize SaaS tools instead of home-grown, or packaged offerings. This model of buying software, like the open-source model or the packaged software model, is here to stay.
It also doesn’t take much squinting to see the huge potential in IaaS solutions. Reducing the hurdle to creating new products and applications, expanding server capacity, lowering operating costs, etc. are all clear and real benefits. Only a matter of time before this is commonplace, even if, as I expect, there will be a massive over-build of capacity, and the obvious market correction (think fiber networks of the early 2000s…).
Platform as a Service offerings might actually be the most intriguing to me at the moment. SaaS products expand markets to customers previously not able to be reached by traditional software solutions. IaaS lowers the cost of computing to the point of enabling new players and products to emerge. But PaaS could enable entirely new markets and business models, and create more disruption than either SaaS or IaaS. Think of the explosion of quality blogs and bloggers, and the disruption that has had on the traditional, profit-minded, media companies – enabled by point-and-click blog platforms (available as a service), and a rich array of pluggable blogging widgets. Substitute “application components” for “blog widgets”, and “PaaS platforms” for “blog platforms”, and you get the point. Now, turbo-boost the entire analogy with the fact that bloggers, by and large, had no real profit motive. Folks using PaaS in the future are going to be companies who are “solely” profit-motivated, trying to disrupt existing solutions and markets. I can’t wait to see what cool stuff comes out of that wave, however distant it might be…
In any event, I am fully on board with the fact that cloud-based computing will become a very large and vibrant piece of the technology and IT landscape. I don’t think it will arrive as quickly some think or want – but the drums are definitely beating.