Cloud Computing: We’ve Only Just Begun

In 2011, enterprises acknowledged that cloud is in their future. What will 2012 bring to help companies feel more secure in adopting the cloud platform?

By Lucas Carlson, CEO, AppFog

The cloud computing movement has been driven by a focus on core competency and efficiency. As in 2010, the cloud computing movement continued to revolutionize the IT industry, leading to more widespread open source adoption in 2011. When 2011 started, there were many questions about data security in the cloud. As the year ended, security concerns were replaced with reliability concerns, which started to bring attention increasingly around platform as a service as a potential solution. This increased attention on platform as a service will define 2012 as an important year for fully implementing cloud plans and realizing efficiencies in enterprises and beyond.

2011 Trend #1: Open source cleared the path for cloud computing

Although cloud computing has been growing quickly, we are still in the earliest days of reaping its benefits. The promises of reduced time to market and IT overhead cannot be ignored by enterprises. However, people are still weary of investing in the cloud because of the mismatch between the promises and the current state of technology. The role open source has played in the cloud has led to increased interest as well as adoption in cloud technology. The importance of providing open source cloud computing technology was evident this past year as initiatives such as OpenStack and Cloud Foundry took center stage.

Launched just over a year ago, OpenStack currently has over 132 participating companies and over 1,600 developers contributing to the project. This openness with technology, specifically in the cloud computing market, fosters more trust in the cloud and breaks down cloud concerns, leaving more users and companies able to embrace the cloud than ever before.

Cloud Foundry is a shining example of a large company making a similarly meaningful contribution to the open source community. Cloud Foundry open sources a part of the technology needed to run applications in the cloud, which allows developers to contribute directly to the platforms they want to run.

We have seen the industry draw a line between those building on top of the open source platform-as-a-service (PaaS) model and the older model companies that have remained closed source, such as Heroku and AppEngine. The closed-source model has the disadvantage of being based on proprietary software, which leads to inefficiencies and poor portability in the cloud-computing sector. Open source is increasingly being seen as a solution to these inefficiencies, offering increased flexibility for building on top of a platform and the ability to migrate to different infrastructure providers.

2011 Trend #2: The spotlight turned its focus from SaaS to PaaS

Increased attention to software-as-a-service (SaaS) can be seen in the success of companies such as Salesforce.com. However, this year there was increased in interest for PaaS. The complexity of application development has only increased with the number of enterprise applications, and enterprises have begun to understand this need.

Salesforce.com realized that with Force.com, Database.com, and Heroku, the success of SaaS depends intimately on the strength and backbone of PaaS. The jump between infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to SaaS is too wide to be bridged without the availability of PaaS integration.

The same conclusion has been made in other industries such as ISVs, hosters, and systems integrators; all have been working hard to integrate IaaS recently (Citrix with CloudStack and Rackspace with OpenStack, for example). PaaS is the key component to driving successful adoption of both IaaS and SaaS.

2011 Trend #3: Uncertainty of the cloud is still mainstream

Similar to 2010, 2011 seemed to be dubbed the “Year of the Cloud.” By looking at predictions from last year, a lot more was expected this year. Although there were many milestones reached -- including the open sourcing of OpenStack and Cloud Foundry -- events such as the Amazon cloud outage seemed to stop the progress right where it started.

Technology that provides cross-IaaS high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) will likely become more important as ways to mitigate the inherit risk of cloud service problems. Enterprises seem to have decided that they want to adopt the cloud but are still unsure of which solutions to choose. Public, private, or hybrid? Single-language or multi-language PaaS? Bursting to public cloud? How technically viability is OpenStack?

Uncertainty was rampant this year.

Predictions for 2012

In 2011, a perfect storm blended together open source adoption, an understanding of the technical underpinnings of SaaS, and mass uncertainty about the reliability of public cloud. This storm pointed in one direction: straight towards PaaS. As IaaS adoption increases, all of the elements that emerged in 2011 are only going to make PaaS more important than ever.

2012 Prediction #1: PaaS will become the onramp to the cloud

Developers and enterprises using PaaS drastically reduce their up-front costs. Within two to three years, as PaaS becomes more mature, the next generation of startups that will supersede Facebook and LinkedIn will be built on PaaS.

Overall, PaaS reduces the overhead costs for start-up and multi-billion dollar companies alike, and IT departments and sys admins will be able to focus their energy and money on building products and achieving company goals, not wasting money on unnecessary hardware and data centers. From what we’ve seen in 2011, I expect that direct adoption of IaaS will begin to taper off as PaaS picks up the adoption momentum.

2012 Prediction #2: New IaaS offerings will drive PaaS companies to become IaaS agnostic

In 2012, a new generation of public cloud IaaS options will appear as OpenStack technology matures. The multitude of IaaS options will drive PaaS companies into offering IaaS options to their customers. The importance of being IaaS-agnostic is a view articulated by VMware’s Paul Maritz, who spoke on the issue at VMworld 2011 in Copenhagen.

Amazon’s AWS provided an excellent platform for cloud infrastructure, but the market has clamored for more options and features such as faster block storage and faster IO. Many large companies are hoping to break into the IaaS market to provide customers with options, and just as single-language PaaS became too limiting for customers, so, too, will single infrastructure PaaS.

2012 Prediction #3: High availability and disaster recovery will provide renewed confidence in cloud adoption, driving more developers to the cloud through PaaS than have ever been before

One of the largest concerns for cloud adoption has moved from security to reliability. The AWS outage affected a large number of the most popular Web sites on the Internet and drastically reduced confidence in cloud adoption.

As multiple public IaaS options become available and PaaS enables portability between these services, the ability to simultaneously run applications in two separate cloud infrastructures will renew customer confidence in the cloud (especially those concerned about reliability) and drive a wide range of developers to the cloud.

The most exciting part of 2011 was to see companies universally acknowledge that cloud is in their future. Hopefully in 2012, new features and innovations such as PaaS will help companies feel more secure in adopting cloud, and developers will have even more options for increased functionality and operability due to the further multi-language and eventually multi-IaaS support.

Lucas Carlson is the chief executive officer AppFog, a cloud-based PaaS vendor that specializes in making it easy to deploy and scale web based applications. You can contact the author at lucas@appfog.com.
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