After attending GigaOM's Structure 08, I came away with a cloud-computing hangover. Just trying to define cloud computing is daunting given all the hype and companies thunderclapping.
Today the research firm Gartner has jumped on the cloud computing bandwagon, proclaiming that it "heralds an evolution of business that is no less influential than e-business," and defining it as massively scalable IT-related capabilities provided as a service using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.
Yahoo just announced a Cloud Computing & Data Infrastructure Group, which will develop computing infrastructure that balances scalability with cost effectiveness. What was Yahoo doing before it created this group?
I prefer the way Sun Chairman Scott McNealy talks about cloud computing. Ten years ago he was calling it the "big freakin' Webtone switch." Following is how he described it in December 2001:
That is the server, the storage, the operating system, the monitoring software, the clustering, the alternate pathing, multiple domaining, dynamic reconfiguration--and then it has a mail tone, a calendar tone, a news tone, an app server tone, and a directory tone. It has all of the different features of a big freaking WebTone switch and allows you to create this big jukebox. You can buy that all complete. Or you have one throat to choke and you can buy it all through a service provider that is SunTone certified. Or you can do what many IT directors do and they go out and buy the telephone switch by buying the chip from Intel, the operating system from Microsoft, the disk drive from EMC, the Compaq power supply, the Oracle database, the Novell directory, the BEA app server, the SAP, ERP, and CRM from here, blah-blah-blah, this, that, and the other thing, a SoundBlaster card from somebody else, the anti-virus uninstaller from Norton, and then go bring in IBM Global Services to try to make the whole thing work. Buy the big freaking WebTone switch.
At that time McNealy was talking about how enterprises provision their data centers and user services. Now we are seeing Amazon, Google and others take their data center expertise and make it available to developers and companies. Enterprises will be slower to move to the cloud, but they will eventually get there. Software-as-a-service providers are flourishing, and increasingly enterprises are considering off-premises, hosted solutions.
In essence, we are at the beginning of the age of planetary computing. Billions of people will be wirelessly interconnected, and the only way to achieve that kind of massive scale usage is by massive scale, brutally efficient cloud-based infrastructure.