Sometimes society needs to pause, waiting for one single word or symbol that encapsulates its fundamental need, before moving on. Like a seed crystal dropped into a super-saturated solution, the word "cloud" has become the rallying cry for a range of "as a service" business models now spreading like wildfire. And yet the basic idea - that it makes economic sense to invest heavily in central resources and save money on cheaper access to those resources - has been around since the days of the mainframe computer.
The personal computer almost destroyed that model, as people discovered that they really liked holding their own resources, but it re-emerged with client-server and the savings made possible by allowing a "thinner client". While the rise of the web revived the idea of centralisation, with a truly thin client accessing services from the Internet, early moves in this direction gathered little momentum. This was partly because Internet access in the 1990s was still too slow, but also because people still cherished the autonomy of having all their assets in their own PC.
What really shifted this caution was the arrival of the smartphone: a new type of thin client appeared that seemed to hold the whole world in its Internet grasp. People did not have to shift perspective and embrace the SaaS model, they just found they were already using it, and the word of this new aeon was "cloud". The result has been a surge in cloud uptake that took even its strongest advocates by surprise.
The signs are everywhere, as massive new datacentres are springing up in the coldest places: Dell'Oro Group predicts that within five years more than 75% of Ethernet ports will be sold into data centres, with similar predictions for compute and storage gear from Gartner and Forrester. So the total worldwide market for cloud infrastructure and services is expected to grow to $206B in 2016, and the cloud will be the hub for most business investments well into the next decade.
The early adopters are those who accept this total virtualisation process and are quite happy to shift it to other platforms. But, as we move towards a mass cloud market, the industry is beginning to reach people still wedded to the merits of autonomy. These include a sense of independence with more palpable SLAs, of security (or at least more manageable risk), control over data integrity in the face of increasing legislation and so on.
This means that the industry will soon be facing a much steeper sales incline - and this is just when it can least afford to slip. If the cloud fails now, it could send the whole market tumbling back down the slope.
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