REALITY CHECK

4 waves of cloud: Are agencies along for the ride?

Note: This column has been updated to include factors driving cloud adoption.

At a recent company conference, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison officially became a “cloud convert,” announcing an array of cloud offerings, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service  (IAAS), a private cloud and a multi-tenant or “cloud” version of the Oracle 12c Database. Oracle’s IAAS will compete directly with Amazon.com, the leader in this space, which in November will host its first Amazon Web Services/Cloud conference.

These developments are indicators that cloud computing is shifting to a new level of acceptance, adoption and competition.

Public-sector agencies are among those driving the move to the cloud, with initiatives ranging from the Obama administration's Cloud First imperative to a variety of cloud computing plans by cities. But how much impact have they had on overall cloud computing trends? Here’s a look at four distinct waves of cloud adoption and some thoughts on when or if they will hit a tipping point.

1. The Startup Wave

This wave of adopters is composed of start-up companies developing interactive Web 2.0 sites that can scale in both capacity and cost as their user base scales. The primary driver for this group in the private sector is metered billing because it best fits their business model. Evidence of this is seen when any major cloud provider goes down and knocks out a huge swathe of our favorite Internet sites.

2. The Commodity Wave

This wave consists of business and government organizations primarily interested in reducing data center costs via IAAS clouds. This wave will witness a growth and consolidation of IAAS providers (evidenced by Go Daddy recently dropping out of this space) and eventually culminate in either de-facto or formal IAAS standards. The primary drivers of this wave are data center self-service and data center consolidation.

3. The Consumer Wave

This wave is composed of average individuals – including government employees – who subscribe to cloud services directly without knowing or caring how it works.  A recent Citrix Cloud Survey found that 51 percent of respondents believe that stormy weather would interfere with their cloud computing. When this wave swells in earnest, that percentage will be reduced dramatically. The drivers of this wave are multiple devices (tablets, smartphones, cars, sensors, etc.) and the desired simplicity of them all seamlessly working together.

This is also the culmination of Software-As-A-Service (SaaS), with iCloud and Xbox Live paving the way.

4. The Enterprise Wave

This wave will occur when agencies and commercial firms (small, mid-size and large) target the majority of their IT development, including mission-critical applications, to a cloud platform. The key drivers for this wave are cloud interoperability and reliability.

If the cloud is to fulfill its promise of becoming a “computing utility” similar to electric grid providers, consumers and governments will then have no fear of switching providers.

It should be clear that each of these waves of adopters supports the next wave. If you plotted these waves as normal distributions with the Y-axis being adoption and the X-axis being time, you could draw a line at Time T where all four waves intersect somewhere in their lifecycle.

That point – where all of these waves of adoption are either continuing or have begun – will be the tipping point where the cloud becomes the dominant computing platform. 

Today we are at the zenith of Wave 1, about 15 percent to 25 percent into Wave 2 and at the starting point of Wave 3. Of course, there is the possibility that either a catalyst or disruptive event could hasten or hinder any or all of these waves and thereby hasten or hinder the cloud tipping point.

While the U.S. and European governments are trying to play the role of catalyst, the evidence shows that the first two waves have been and are progressing with almost no influence or acceleration from their participation. The marketplace of providers and mindshare of developers is the only thing currently influencing these trends. Given that cloud interoperability is crucial to the government, being part of the fourth wave of adoption may be later than they hoped for.  

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