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Why your future is in the public cloud

Eric Knorr | Oct. 21, 2014
Liftoff to an all-cloud future may come sooner than you think, with Salesforce Wave as the latest sign

cloudy buildings
Credit: Thinkstock

It's not a question of if, but of when: Most of enterprise computing will eventually be sucked up into the public cloud, kind of like the rapture in slow motion.

This is not exactly a radical notion, but signs of a great skyward event keep multiplying. Last week, Salesforce sent up a flare with the announcement of Wave, its new cloud analytics platform. Although it's far from the first public cloud analytics play -- Birst along with such startups as AdataoPlatforaTidemark, and many others rolled out first -- the announcement of Wave is a seminal event.

Wave's introduction is important because it sets up shop atop repositories of existing customer data already stored in the public cloud by Salesforce customers. This is a sort of triple play:

  1. It overcomes one of the biggest obstacles to cloud-based analytics, which is moving data from on-premises to the public cloud
  2. Analysis of customer data happens to be the area where so-called big data analytics are reaping their most tangible rewards
  3. Wave should be able to mash up all that structured Salesforce data with semi-structured Web/mobile clickstream and social data, both of which are also native to the cloud

Add a fourth win for Wave if you like: Today, large-scale analytics is a classic example of the sort of batch job suited to the public cloud. You don't want to buy a bunch of servers that will lie fallow when you're not running a job; it's far better to rent that compute and storage from a cloud service provider.

In the long run, though, this is a legacy issue. By the time the wholesale shift to the public cloud is in full swing, analytics will be such an embedded part of everything, from supply chain optimization to predictive failure analysis, it will all be real time and you'll never turn it off.

Salesforce Wave is the latest sign of cloudward momentum. The real reason the public cloud will triumph is simple: The frequency of significant technology advances has accelerated to such a degree, enterprises can't be expected to keep up.

The best cloud service providers are architected from the ground up to remake themselves continuously and insulate customers from that change. Over time, as change accelerates further, only multitenanted cloud providers that have fully abstracted their services to customers will be able to take advantage of and quickly deploy the latest advances. You could argue that some large enterprises will want to "stay in the business" of IT at this level, but if they do, they will have effectively fashioned themselves into cloud service providers.

What will be left for enterprise IT to do? Silly question -- build applications, of course. That has always been IT's ultimate deliverable anyway. Already, public cloud PaaS offerings such as Microsoft Azure, Red Hat OpenShift, and Pivotal Cloud Foundry (the last now also provided by third parties such as CenturyLink) are luring developers who appreciate the benefits of automated dev, test, and deployment environments in the cloud. As more cloud APIs are exposed and integration among all sorts of clouds progresses, those PaaS environments will only get richer.


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