Cloud wars: Who can make cloud the most boring?

Commentary: Cloud is the future, but getting there may require a healthy dose of making it look like the past.

Cloud storage

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Not too long ago was earnings season for public cloud providers, with Google, AWS, Microsoft and Alibaba all announcing earnings within a week of each other. Cloud earnings bingo card in hand, we madly marked them down (Google $3.83 billion, including Google Workspace and Google Cloud Platform; AWS $12.74 billion, Microsoft was estimated at $7.20 billion by analyst Piper Sandler; Alibaba $2.47 billion). This is real money! This is big money! So we compare growth rates to determine who is really winning in the cloud.

But in so doing, we arguably miss the mark. 

After all, Gartner estimates that organizations spent $257.5 billion on public cloud services in 2020. That’s a lot of money, but it’s a pittance compared to the $3.6 trillion Gartner estimated enterprises would globally spend on IT in 2020. Yes, that means that nearly all global IT spend is for boring on-premises software, hardware and associated services (like consulting). This is why the real cloud race is arguably all about who can make something exciting and new seem drab and old. 

SEE: The most important cloud advances of the decade (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Getting to the future…eventually

This thought kept coming to mind while interviewing EDB CEO Ed Boyajian a few months back. EDB has been around for more than a decade, building software and services around the popular PostgreSQL open source database. Given how hot cloud is, you’d think the company would be offering a managed cloud service by now. Nope.

“Our experience tells us it’s still largely in a traditional data center context” for PostgreSQL workloads, he said. While Boyajian definitely sees a time when EDB will offer its own managed PostgreSQL service (Alibaba has partnered with EDB to offer its own managed PostgreSQL service today), he suggested that many enterprises don’t want to go there yet; at least, not for all of their workloads. “If you’ve got to fix something, you can’t fix it in the database anymore, and must fix it in the app. And that’s a challenge,” he said. 

So, is cloud not a thing?

Of course it is, said IDC vice president Stephen Minton

Where there is growth, most of it is in the cloud. Overall software spending is now expected to decline as businesses delay new projects and application roll-outs…. On the other hand, the amount of data that companies must store and manage is not going anywhere. Increasingly, even more of that data will be stored, managed, and increasingly also analyzed in the cloud.

This echoes something Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman said back in 2015: “New stuff tends to go to the public cloud, while doing old stuff in new ways tends to go to private clouds. And new stuff is simply growing faster.” Public cloud will likely continue to claim an ever-growing percentage of total IT spending, but it’s still only 6% or so. 

This is why we’re likely to see cloud providers continue to offer bridges back to on-premises software, even as they pull customers into the cloud future through greenfield applications in AI/ML, as just one example. It’s also why we’ll likely see cloud providers push messaging that is less “run like web-scale giants” and more “we can help you modernize at your pace.” This is something that former Google developer and MySQL expert Mark Callaghan once pointed out, comparing MySQL development to MongoDB development: “[MySQL] should have been built for everyone else, not for Google because big web-scale is a small market. MongoDB built that product and is thriving by selling it to everyone but big web-scale.”

Fast forward to today and the hardest part of being a cloud provider might be the matter of making cloud development and operations approachable to rank-and-file developers/ops people. It’s what Microsoft did so well in the Windows era, realizing that the vast majority of developers weren’t MacArthur Fellows trying to crack the code on quantum computing. They’re just mainstream folks who need to get that application out the door by Friday so they can have time to see their kid’s game on Saturday. 

In other words, the next wave of cloud computing might be a race to see who can make it the most boring. Get your bingo cards out!

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are my own.

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