When I first heard about the concept of Cloud Computing about 18 months ago, my first reaction was – “This must be a joke!” How is “Cloud Computing” different than Utility Computing; Grid Computing; On Demand; Storage Service Providers; Storage as a Service; Software as a Service; and Application Service Providers? These are all new terms created by the IT industry over the past 10 years to describe the arrival of the ultimate, disruptive paradigm shift in computing. All of these terms are just variants of the same business model – hosted services managed by a third party provider with virtualized architectures, rapid scalability and a usage based billing model.
So my initial reaction to Cloud Computing was that it is certainly doomed to the same short-lived fame and disappointing adoption rates that the other utility-like models achieved. In the early part of this decade each of the industry powerhouses each launched utility computing offerings. IBM spent billions marketing its On Demand strategy. HP pushed their Utility Data Center concept. Sun Microsystems introduced its N1 portfolio. We also witnessed the launch of a number of independent startup vendors. There were Utility Computing Vendors, Storage Service Providers and Application Service Providers each of which promised to revolutionize IT. Did we see a mad rush of Fortune 500 companies powering down their data centers and moving all of their business applications to third party utility computing services? No. In fact, many of these niche providers such as Pandesic, Corio, Storage Networks, quickly fell into financial distress that ultimately led to insolvency or a low-priced buyout. To be fair utility computing was not a total failure. In fact to the hardware and storage vendors it was a huge success as technologies such as virtualization, blade servers and storage area networks were widely embraced by enterprise IT departments. Today these modular, virtualized platforms are the preferred architecture paradigm for most corporate IT organizations. Furthermore, there concept of On Demand led to a boom in IT Outsourcing to vendors such as IBM and EDS even if many of the actual architectures deployed did not fall into the definition of Utility Computing.
Will Cloud Computing suffer the same fate as its predecessors? Will history repeat itself? One thing I have learned about the technology industry is that timing has a big influence on market adoption. Historical uptake of an idea is not always the best way to predictor to evaluate the potential for future success. For example, if you would have asked me in May what the summer blockbuster of 2008 would be, I would have picked the new Indiana Jones flick based upon its historical success record. There is no chance that I would have selected Iron Man or what seems like another iteration of the never ending Batman series. Of course, I would have been wrong. Indiana Jones was terrible! And both Iron Man and Batman’s Dark Knight spent about a month at the #1 slot in box office ticket sales.
The Dark Knight
The amount of continuing investment in the Batman movie series continues to amaze me. Six Batman films have been made in the past 20 years. Very few of these Batman movies could be labeled successful from my perspective. While none were an abysmal failure, the box office revenues have been inconsistent and disappointing up until the latest release.
I am certain there are numerous Batman fans out there who would argue that $300M in box office sales is success. However, compare Batman’s success to other major film series such as Lord of the Rings whose three films all grossed over $800M; Pirates of the Caribbean whose films each grossed over $600M and Harry Potter which yielded approximately $800M for all 5 pictures.
The lack of success Batman has achieved is not for a lack of talented actors, big name producers or multi-million dollar production budgets. Consider the following:
- Bruce Wayne – There have been four different actors playing the role in the six recent movies – Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and now Christian Bale.
- Villains – Some of the most successful actors of our time have starred in various villain roles including Liam Neeson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson, Uma Thurman, Danny DeVito and Jim Carrey.
- Batfriends – Even the other good guys have been big names including Alicia Silverstone as BatGirl; Chris O’Donnell as Robin; Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes and Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale.
- Producers – Big name producers Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton produced many of the films in the 1990s.
I have often wondered why they continued making the films after the challenges during the 1990s. It almost seems as if Hollywood has been engaged in some desperate attempt to make Batman successful at any cost.
Let’s keep changing the parameters until we get it right. We’ll change the primary actor, the supporting cast and the producers until we break through and place in the top 10 films of all time. And if none of those changes work we will start the sequence of movies over again (Batman Begins) with a new cast and crew.
Well, I have to say there strategy has finally worked. The Dark Knight was the blockbuster movie of the summer in 2008.
Is Cloud Computing the Dark Knight of the Technology Industry?
So what does all this discussion of Batman have to do with Cloud Computing? The series of on-going Batman films remind me of the technology industry’s on-going quest for a new disruptive model. Every few years, we introduce a new term to describe the same utility-like, hosted infrastructure service model. Each time there are new big name actors (vendors) and highly regarded producers (evangelists) who claim – “this time is going to be different.” With utility computing, the vendors were IBM, HP, Corio and the evangelists were firms such as Gartner, IDC and Forrester Research. With cloud computing we have a different set of players who are equally influential and well-financed. New vendors this time around include amazon.com, best known for its Internet sales of books and Google whose revenues are primarily derived from on-line advertising. Of course there are numerous other established technology firms such as Salesforce.com jumping on the bandwagon. And numerous private investors have funded specialized cloud vendors such as Enki and Joyent. We have new evangelists such as Nicholas Carr author of the Big Switch. And, of course, the analyst hype machine for Cloud Computing is operating at full speed. Gartner has produced over 30 different pieces of research on Cloud Computing in the past 18 months.
It took six films for Batman to finally reach breakthrough success. So the question is – Does Cloud Computing introduce a fundamentally new set of IT economics and capabilities that will result in a blockbuster success? In other words, will Cloud Computing be the Dark Knight of the technology sector? My answer – yes and no. No, I don’t think we are going to see many companies turn over their IT operations to a book store or an advertising firm – outside of a few specialized scenarios. However, I think we will see an adoption of private clouds by enterprise IT departments and service providers. Enterprise data center architectures have been moving towards virtualization, modularized hardware and standardized vendor technologies for the past eight years. The trend towards utility or cloud computing is nothing new. I also think we will see service providers such as cable operators; telecommunications providers and IT outsourcers build private clouds to support their business models. More thoughts on the impacts of Cloud Computing in a future post…