Everybody knows the cloud is coming, but if you ask people when, or how, or what form it will take, suddenly the consensus starts to break down.
At the moment, there seem to be three trends in enterprise cloud computing taking shape, as James Urquhart points out in this article on CNet. First, there is the public cloud model, as espoused by Salesforce and other SaaS players, in which all services are provided by third parties via wideband data links. The opposing view is that of internal clouds, which enterprises establish behind their own firewalls for use by their own employees and possibly partners and clients as well.
The middleground is private clouds, in which users would access the public cloud infrastructure to tap private resources that are controlled and managed by the enterprise. This is different from a hybrid cloud in that the private cloud would do more than simply shift applications across platforms, instead ushering in an environment in which internal and external resources are dynamically allocated and re-allocated according to user needs.
All three of these models are moving forward at a rapid pace, so it's too early to tell if one will eventually dominate. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that the future of enterprise computing will encompass all three, and maybe more, as the technology advances.
Sun Microsystems, rumored takeover talks notwithstanding, is one top-tier vendor positioning itself for a multi-cloud model. The company's new Open Cloud Platform was designed from the ground up to allow users to build virtual data centers in any cloud environment. The platform consists of Computer Services for virtual machines, networking and storage, as well as the company's Virtual Data Center, Open API and Storage Services, along with hardware/software combinations like the VirtualBox and the Sun xVM system.
IBM also sees numerous cloud environments, although it expects more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary one. This videocast on GigaOm has Drew Clark, director of strategy for IBM's venture capital group, explaining how the company expects enterprises to create their own internal clouds first and then incorporate more public services from Amazon and others as they grow comfortable with the technology. Over time, Clark says, enterprises will transition to full Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings from (who else?) IBM.
The one company that seems to be sitting in the catbird's seat in all this is VMware. CEO Paul Maritz spent a good deal of time touting the company's cloud strategy at VMworld Europe last month. The short take is this: No matter what kind of cloud environment emerges as the favorite, it all has to be tied together with virtualization software. As long as the company can maintain its dominance there (a big if), enterprises will have to go through VMware to get on the cloud. With virtualization shaping up to replace the operating system in importance, is it any wonder that Microsoft and Red Hat are joining forces now after all these years?
The cloud will most definitely be a game-changer for the enterprise industry, and there are bound to be winners and losers in the process, which might play out over 10 years or more. But no matter which model proves dominant, if any, the final chapter will likely be IT services that are more flexible and powerful that anything we have today.