I get asked that question alot. Like web 2.0, cloud computing means different things to different people. The vanilla answer is “software delivered over the Net.” According to Google, consumer cloud computing is the web, but when people talk of the brewing cloud battle among Amazon, Microsoft and Google; it takes a slightly different form.
The first is operating internet-based services in the cloud, everything from web-based programs such as GMail and Hotmail to the model used by enterprise software such as SalesForce.com, which hosts and runs high-end business applications for corporations. The other is the idea of offering an internet based platform to developers who want to create services but don’t have their own cloud to run them on. So they rent storage, computation, and maintenance from someon else, currently Amazon ang Google, but soon Microsoft (enter Azure!)
Cloud companies assume that consumers will embrace the idea that much of what was once crunched on their PCs and stored on their hard drives will now live in some vague, faraway place, trusting that it will always be there when they need it.
Needless to say, it’s a controversial subject that is getting alot of attention. It plays nicely with the virtualization movement and helps to bring the promise of the “web desktop” a little closer to reality. It’s still early to predict how the cloud will ultimately impact markets, but it’s surely something to watch.
If I were to make a bold prediction, borrowing heavily from my understanding of Ray Ozzie’s vision (Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect) we’ll see a whole new marketplace created for consumption by business and consumers alike. I personally credit Saleforce.com and Software as a Service (SaaS) for pioneering the notion (or arguably others prior, such as application service providers [ASP] models) which together have been pushing the boundaries ever slow slowly away from the desktop and making the “platforms” themselves more ubiquitous, enabling developers to target platforms where marketplaces already exist, vs. trying to create it themselves. Imagine Facebook Dev Platform + OpenSocial + Apple iPhone Apps, Amazon Services, Google App Engine and now Azure – each with offer unique capabilities and distribution channels, yet they all share one tenet, empower the developer to create value-added applications for their respective platform(s). Think Slide for the enterprise, or the realization of Mark Zuckerberg’a vision for a whole new computer marketplace, trumping that of the “OS” itself – which could spur the next round of technology giants! Pretty cool stuff.
Software reminds me a lot of Michigan weather, if you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it will change!