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Cloud Computing’s Cambrian Explosion

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

A particularly apt biological metaphor for the state of cloud computing today.

Cloud Computing's Cambrian ExlosionCloud Computing's Cambrian ExlosionEcosystem is one of those words that gets used a lot when writing about cloud computing. There's another biological metaphor that's just as (if not more) apt.

Ecosystem conjures up images of a wide variety of plants and animals living with and off of one another.  It implies balance and sustainability.  In many ways it’s a well-founded metaphor for cloud computing.  There is another biological metaphor apt for the state of cloud computing today: the Cambrian Explosion.

About 530 million years ago a large number of diverse species evolved over a (geologically) short period of time.  Even though life started over a billion years ago, it wasn’t until the Cambrian Explosion that the complexity and diversity took off.  A world filled with simple single celled organisms, multicellular colonies and the limited attempts at multicellular life became home to complex organisms filling just about every inhabitable niche on the planet. 

There are plenty of competing theories about why the pace of evolution accelerated so quickly but one thing is clear: some critical threshold was passed in terms of a favorable environment and genetic complexity that allowed for a wide range of evolutionary experimentation.  We are starting to see the beginnings of comparably favorable environments and technical complexity in cloud computing now.

The favorable environment for cloud computing includes established IaaS providers like Amazon and Rackspace.  They have proven the business value of selling compute cycles and storage blocks. They’ve also grown to support a substantial user base. Other vendors are jumping in too, including old school service providers like IBM, HP and Dell.  Establishing an IaaS market is a significant achievement and vendors deserve all the credit, and revenue, they get.  IaaS is just the beginning though, like the first, sometimes failed attempts at multicellular life in the pre-Cambrian period. 

The value of IaaS is as a building block for the next level of complexity.  We can see evidence for this in slowing adoption rates of IaaS. According to InformationWeek, “IaaS adoption zoomed to about a third of IT shops and then all but stopped.” Just like organisms that thrive in particular environment niches, IaaS grew while it addressed unmet needs.

The next step, that is happening now and will continue to grow, is innovating new cloud services based on existing IaaS and PasS services. This is where crossing a complexity threshold comes in. We have cloud building blocks for application and workflows, like scalable databases, analytic tools, and infrastructure management tools. 

Vendors are now projecting their visions for what the next step in the evolution of cloud computing will look like HP talking about “Cloud as a Business” (CaaB).  I could write that off as vendor hype but the phrase captures something important.  They are capturing the idea that the cloud ecosystem is built on multiple layers of increasing complexity.  At t the bottom are IaaS and PaaS with SaaS occupying the middle tier. What businesses want, whether it’s from the internal IT department or a cloud service provider, is support for business processes. Vendors that operate at the business process level will be on top of the food chain.  IaaS vendors that take on Amazon and Rackspace will be competing on margins.  Ironically, the highest value position in the cloud ecosystem will be at the business process level where the barriers to entry are lowest because of existing IaaS and PaaS services.

HP, IBM, Oracle and other service providers may have an early start at the business process level but that space will be new vendors that can take advantage of the favorable environment and utilize lower level cloud services to create something of a business services Cambrian explosion.

Additional The Silver Lining blog articles:

The Silver Lining: Avoiding IaaS Tunnel Vision

Software as a service is and will be the most innovative and profitable segment of cloud computing.

Cloud Computing Lets Us Rethink How We Use Data

Inaugural post for Dan Sullivan's Tom's IT Pro "The Silver Lining" blog about Cloud.

Dan Sullivan is an author, systems architect, and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in systems architecture, enterprise security, advanced analytics and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail, gas and oil production, power generation, life sciences, and education.  Dan has written 16 books and numerous articles and white papers about topics ranging from data warehousing, Cloud Computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

See here for all of Dan's Tom's IT Pro articles.

(Shutterstock image credit: Earth Inside Cloud - DNA)