The Cloud Industry, What I Do and My Motivators, Part Two

A little while ago I spent some time having a broad ranging talk with Jacob Gardner of Logicworks about what I do and why I do it. As I head off on a family vacation, I wanted to take the time to report the two part interview – it’s long but it was pretty worthwhile and may prove to be a moderately interesting explanation of what I think about the broader trends and opportunities of our industry.

Here’s part two… (and if you haven’t seen it, part one is here)

Gathering Clouds: How do you see not only the provider landscape, but the cloud landscape from a technology perspective changing over the next few years?

Ben Kepes: So that’s a difficult one, when you consider that we didn’t have Amazon Web Services little more than five years ago. It’s hard to kind of crystal ball gaze in terms of what’s coming. I think that cloud adoption will only continue to grow. That’s fairly obvious. I think that a lot of the barriers to entry, things like security and overall IT resistance will change. I think more and more people will be moving up the stack, and PaaS will really ascend over the next few years as infrastructure becomes a little commoditized. I think we will see some mega-vendors break out in the platform space. I think it’s fairly obvious that Salesforce will become the new Oracle, for example. But at the same time, we’ll see companies like Oracle and Microsoft start to win in the cloud, whether that’s by acquisition or development — who knows.

GC: Where is innovation happening and how is it happening and who’s driving it?

BK: Innovation’s happening everywhere. I think that there’s a lot of innovation happening in the platform space. I’ve been really excited by things Cloud Foundry has been doing. I think more broadly in terms of not so much organizations but more where I see opportunities, I’m really excited by solutions that straddle a broad range of different services. My theory, or my thesis, is that over time, organizations will use more and more discrete and disparate services from different vendors, and so if I can straddle as many of those in my mind is a good bet. So I’m really bullish about companies, for example, like Twilio, that are doing voice APIs over a broad range of applications. Similarly I’m excited about companies like the API management companies, cloud management companies like enStratus and RightScale. Anyone that straddles a bunch of different services, and helps to bring some clarity across that breadth is in a good space I believe.

GC: Amongst the companies that are leading the charge from a technology perspective, where do you see collaboration happening, and what new opportunities is that collaboration creating?

BK: Sure. So you know, obviously OpenStack is a pretty amazing infrastructure initiative where you got 200 vendors getting together for what, for their own betterment, for sure, but for the betterment of the community, so that’s really exciting. I think service providers, we’re seeing some interesting things in terms of large service providers, the likes of telcos and banks like this, doing a bit of sort of service aggregation, whether that’s applications or whether that’s some storage or infrastructure. I think we’ll see some interesting plays in terms of that aggregation moving forward.

GC: On open source, do you believe that it’s a way to improve the promise or even the premise of what cloud could be, or is it really just establishing a broader or more standardized status quo?

BK: I think its changing things. I believe that open source lowers barriers to entry. It increases innovation because there aren’t commercial barriers to innovation occurring. As an extension of that, open source is different actually; it’s significantly changed the landscape. Not only because of the obvious reasons: because you have an open competitor, in the formerly proprietary space, but also because you have innovation built on top of that open source platform.

GC: Looking more broadly at the major players in the space, both providers and then the companies actually developing the technology: who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong?

BK: I think it’s a nascent space so it’s hard to say who is doing things right, given that we don’t really know because we’re all new at this. I would say that anyone that’s cloud-washing (NOTE: To read an insightful article on Forbes regarding Logicworks CEO Ken Ziegler’s perspective on cloud-washing, click here), anyone who’s taking a regular product and calling it cloud is doing it wrong. I’d say that anyone that’s trying to increase lock-in is doing it wrong. Anyone that’s not building solutions with open APIs is doing it wrong. Anyone that’s not enabling broad browser-based mobile access is doing it wrong. So there’s a few kind of general statements in there, but overall it’s too early to say specifically which vendor has it particularly wrong.

GC: Thinking about the prevalence of tech-empowered start-ups all over the world, from London to U.S. cities like Boston, Austin and New York, to Asia, Australia and New Zealand: has the way the economy has been trending over the past decade pushed people to start being smarter about how they approach creating a business and, in so doing, move people closer to the cloud? Is that why we’ve seen such a big boom over the last four years?

BK: Yeah, absolutely. I think what we’re seeing is a real convergence in that cloud is an enabler. You’ve seen convergence around organizations’ desire or demand or need for agility, around generational changes, with millenials coming through, and the use of lightweight, agile tools. We’ve moved to ubiquitous mobile access, project specific tech. All these things are kind of converging together. And the technologies that cloud delivers answer those needs and on the expectations. Michael Andreeson famously discussed the “software-ization of the world.” We’ve seen a kind of move from sort of monolithic organizations to much smaller, more refined organizations, and the software startup is sort of the epitome of that change.

GC: What are your views with regard to mobile and cloud, how those two are coming together, where they’re overlapping and interacting, and how they can come together more cohesively in the future.

BK: So I think that part of the difficulty is around the use of marketing words here. Mobile is a pretty simple concept, but we’re using it in different ways throughout cloud. I think clearly that cloud enables mobile access of data. It’s absolutely central to the demands of a mobile workforce. So yes, more and more, people will see that cloud, which obviously is a really broad term, but cloud and its broader guise is going to be an enabler of a mobile workforce. So yeah, I think more and more, those two terms will come together, but clearly in many situations where marketing terms are being bandied around, regardless of whether they are applicable or not.

GC: Right. Are there any companies that you see that are really putting the two technology paradigms closer together in a holistic and smart way?

BK: Sure. Salesforce has Dreamforce next week [at the time of this interview] in San Francisco and they will be announcing some changes that very much deliver the mobile cloud promise. Other companies like Box for example, who is doing a great job of taking content from the clouds and delivering it across mobile platforms. At the software layer, there’s a lot of stuff going on that, which really converges and improves those two things. And it’s most applicable and I think it’s most obvious at the software level versus the infrastructure or platform level. How many people actually want to have virtualization available on mobile or deploy their apps via mobile device?

GC: So earlier in the conversation, you had talked about sort of your view of platform-as-a-service and SaaS really leading the charge, and infrastructure-as-a-service being something that has grown quite considerably in the past, but will not necessarily continue as predominantly in the future. But after SaaS, after PaaS, and after IaaS, what’s the next phase that you anticipate cloud moving toward?

BK: I’m looking forward to when we don’t talk about how cloud is a specific thing anymore, just kind of there, in the same way we don’t talk about our cell phone delivery networks as such, we just use the devices. So I think we’ll get to that point. In terms of what’s the next big area or the next big acronym, and I wouldn’t put an acronym to it, but it will be the kind of platform, where previously separate areas are glued together from across the stack and up and down the stack of the next big area is something Whether it will be parallel to IaaS or PaaS, I don’t really know because I don’t really buy those terms. But I think integration and aggregation services more generally are going be the next kind of area to rise.

GC: As cloud has gained a visible presence within the echo chamber that is IT publications, there seems to be a similar rise in the amount of discussion around big data as it relates to cloud. I was wondering if you could share your perspectives on that.

BK: There are an exponentially growing number of connected devices. And with the rise of the internet and the parallel development of inanimate devices being able to talk to the internet, there is much more data than ever before.  Deriving some meaning or some sense from that data is going to be an opportunity as well as a big problem area.  So the whole concept around big data is totally valid. Actually I get multiple pitches every day, and most of them have some big data as part of the underlying business model. But often regardless of whether the solution being described has anything to do with big data or not. So it’s definitely the buzz word du jour. So like with cloud, people are jumping on the word and just throwing it around because they feel they need to check that box.

GC: Does cloud enable that conversation and that particular buzz word though, more readily five years ago when you’d have to have a giant Oracle database to crunch that large scale data? I mean, cloud enabled people to use Hadoop, so it’s giving a whole range of businesses access to this tool that wouldn’t have previously been able to leverage it.

BK: So I think cloud enables people to get insight into their world and connect with their world. One of those insights, one of those connections is through the use of big data. So yes, cloud is an enabler for big data and the value it can provide a company.

GC: What is the industry going to look like two years, out and then five years from now? What are you seeing?

BK: Sure. So I mean, obviously Bill Gates famously said that we over estimate what we can achieve in the short term and under estimate what we may achieve in the long term.

I think he’s right. In two years’ time we will still be arguing about public versus private, cloud-washing, open-washing and green-washing and all those sorts of things. So the conversations will be similar, though there will be a much higher rate of adoption, and there will be a bunch more solutions.

Five or ten years’ time, I think we’re talking some serious differences. Because at that point, we will actually see some turnover in terms of contemporary IT staff moving on and a new generation of IT leaders coming in. We’ll see the sun-setting of a lot of legacy technologies in favor of new products much advanced beyond where they are today. So I think five to ten years forward at the very minimum everyone will be using virtualization, but moving forward more and more workloads will be in the public cloud, and the public cloud is available on a granular basis. There will be lots of differentiation on service at different levels. I hope in five to ten years’ time the term “cloud” has kind of dissipated. We are using the cloud and doing the cloud, so the word should similarly be increasingly irrelevant.

GC: I’m particularly interested in your views on the public, private, and hybrid cloud debate. they are the three primary buckets of cloud being sold now, but will this change? It seems to me that a lot of innovation is occurring at the public cloud level, but there’s a lot more publicly being stated about the public cloud and its virtues and its problems than there is about the private or hybrid versions. Are they going to remain in those silos? Or are they going change?

BK: I think they’re going to change. And you’re right, I mean, clearly public by definition more public, so there’s more attention there. But I think there’s going be a convergence because people are going to be less dogmatic about “one ring to rule them all,” so to speak. More organizations will have a real hybrid strategy, where they’ll be doing some stuff in the public cloud, they’ll be having their own private cloud, they’ll probably have a virtual private cloud  with a third-party vendor, as well as some stuff at traditional on-premise. But the future is very heterogeneous, and I think that’s only going increase.

GC: What is missing in the cloud industry, both on the manage service provider side, and also on the technology development side?

BK: I think we’re missing a real level of pragmatism. We’re at a stage in this industry where the competition’s being driven by marketing and being driven by dogma. What we’re electing through this lack of pragmatism is simple use. Instead we should be standing back and looking at whether what we are framing is the right solution. Ultimately we need to understand and accept that one flavor isn’t right for all kinds of customers and prospects.