Saturday, December 10, 2011

Looking forward to 2012

[UBER-DISCLOSURE: These thoughts or predictions offer no insight or insider-knowledge from my current or future employer. This discussion is strictly from my my own thoughts, based on publicly available information.]

A few weeks back I was asked to provide some Cloud Computing predictions for 2012. Those were pulled together quickly and didn't really provide any context or look at the trends surrounding them. It's getting to be that time of year again; time to look forward at the areas that could be very interesting in 2012. I made some predictions last year, but I thought it might be more interesting to focus on what will be interesting in 2012 (at least from my point-of-view).

Topic #1: Cloud Economics - People like Simon Wardley (@swardley), Bernard Golden (@bernardgolden) and Joe Weinman (@joeweinman) been doing an excellent job of providing macro-level economics overviews of Cloud Computing. They have primarily looked at the trends being driven by "outsourcing to the cloud", costs of bandwidth or network, commodity hardware vs. vendor hardware, opensource software vs. vendor software and the reduction of people costs due to automation within public clouds.  The next stage of this is to move it from conference talks and academic-level papers to tools that managers can use to determine when it makes sense to leverage Cloud for tactical vs. strategic opportunities. The next stage becomes less focused on cost-savings and more on how these new models can impact top-line business growth and industry shifts beyond the technology sector.

Topic #2: Democratizing Big Data - So far, most of the talk around "Big Data" has been in the areas of start-up funding, OEM partnerships, "Data Scientists" and infrastructure redesign. Those all have an impact on how the Big Data systems will be built, but I don't believe they focus on the area that will truly make this a difference maker for business. To harness the real value of Big Data, the tools to question, interpret and analyze the information need to be made available to a much broader group that just "business analysts" and Data Scientists. The winning companies around Big Data will be the ones that allow the information to be dissected by managers and individual contributors as simply as it is to do a Google search or a Wikipedia lookup. Allow the curiosity of the person closest to a businesses customers or communities to ask the question that may unlock the nuance to truly excel in a new market or with a new product.

Topic #3: Breaking IT - The twitterverse was buzzing recently at news that Atos had abandoned internal email in favor of a newer system that would help eliminate some of their inability to communicate and make decisions. While this is a notable event, what is truly interesting is the thinking behind actions like this where IT allows itself to break out of old models. Sometimes these actions are driven by the business (new technology; reduce costs), but they are truly unique when people evaluate the problem without technology being a limiting factor. So what's next?

  • Do we still need desk phones? 
  • How is it possible that we still have email quotas? 
  • Are there ways to enable freemium pricing models for various elements of your business (IT or others) where digital technology is the driver?
  • Are there unconventional ways for IT to partner with the technology community that hadn't been considered before?
  • How is IT allowing their organizations to fragment themselves so that new technology could be introduced, not to create silos, but to allow greater experimentation or unlock potentially new routes to market engagement?

Topic #4: New Delivery Rules - It wasn't long ago that there was clear delineation about what various types of technology companies delivered (hardware, software, consulting services, online services). But the last couple of years have significantly blurred those lines due to new technologies, new computing economics, vendor mergers and general changes to the competitive landscape. The result is tremendous new offers for businesses, but with it comes a level of confusion about who does what and how long that will last. I've heard vendors on all sides explain why they do or don't participate in various types of offerings, but what I haven't seen yet is trending information from businesses about how they feel about these changes.

  • Do they want online services from their hardware or software vendors? 
  • Do they want packaged equipment (hardware + software) or would they prefer virtualized appliances delivered on any hardware?
  • At what pace do they expect to re-write applications or create new applications, and will these new models (eg. PaaS) be part of their strategy?
  • What assurances do businesses expect from their vendors/partners if they transition from buyer (CAPEX) to renter (OPEX) with that company?
  • Will hardware vendors be asked to deliver on-demand pricing for on-premise equipment that isn't shared with other customers?
  • Will new software licensing models exist that truly create a shared-risk model between buyer and seller, or will it continue to be mostly linear pricing as demand increases?

Interesting: Platform as a Service (PaaS) - 2011 was the year that almost everybody announced or expanded their PaaS offering: Salesforce/Heroku, Google AppEngine, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Microsoft Azure, VMware Cloud Foundry, RedHat OpenShift, Joyent, Cloudbees, Engine Yard, IBM PaaS, Apprenda, Bungee Connect.

But which platform should a developer choose? Some are open-source, some are multi-cloud, some offer multiple middleware and database options, other support multiple language frameworks.

This level of variety without a clear leader (or three) and the massive skills gap between the development communities and infrastructure/operations communities means that 2012 has the potential to see PaaS go through some consolidation, a great deal of community education and hopefully some lighthouse applications that leverage these new programming models. The potential is out there for disruption as massive revenue streams are at stake whenever developer loyalties shift. But who will capture this early market space?

Topic #5: Mobile, Mobile, Mobile - Call it the "post-PC era" or whatever you want, but we're reached the point where PCs are being outsold by mobile devices in a completely new form factor.  Mobility unlocks new behaviors, new interactions and new creativity around applications and communities. The traditional PC isn't going away, although I hope any lingering buzz about VDI does, but it's now going to be looked at in a different way. Will we see a newfound emphasis on mobile application development to solve business needs, or will the primary focus be on transitioning the PC experience through various types of emulation models and app stores of SaaS services.

Topic #6: The Cloud Concierge - I've written about this in the past, but more and more we're seeing tools and services that will allow centralized visibility to an IT organization across multiple sets of Cloud resources, both public and private. By allowing the IT organization to decouple the physical location of resources from the services delivered, but continuing to provide visibility and governance, we may begin to see IT organizations evolve like other parts of the business. Adopting the right service (or skills), at the right price or service-level, regardless of where in the world it resides.  The technology is available to match the business need with the right service-delivering model (internally or externally), but will IT organizations be able to evolve to deliver this model of services?

Interesting: Evolution of Cloud APIs - Somewhere between 1 and 100 million is the right answer to "how many Cloud APIs do we need?" We've discussed the challenges that Cloud Portals, and Cloud Management tools have in keeping up with many APIs. Some APIs are proprietary or more closed in nature, while others are open-source but often times poorly-defined. Regardless of this, APIs are the language of Cloud Computing and one of the core reasons that systems are able to be so highly automated today. Watching the evolution of these APIs will be critical for any vendor, business or open-source project lead that wants to have a chance to deploy their technology services successfully in 2012 and beyond.