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Clash of the Clouds

The Economist, my favorite news and analysis magazine, published an outstanding briefing and analysis on the coming wars of ascendancy between the major vendors of cloud computing technology and services.  When a technological shift bubbles up into the mainstream news media, the technology has gone through a significant, society-altering right of passage.  As technologists, we all know that the “outside world” doesn’t really get what we do.  It doesn’t click for grandma that you’re doing difficult and important work because it’s hard to wrap your head around low-level technological work.  And, unfortunately, most technologists can’t explain what they do on a daily basis without a lot of jargon and techie-speak.  So when a major news magazine that speaks to a large number of CEOs and gray-haired types whose closest contact to email is having their admin send a message for them, it’s important to the world at large.  Really important.

You can read the briefing here.  (Be sure to read the comments.  You’ll get some great insight into why cloud computing is a society-altering technology.)

You can read the full multi-page story, for subscribers only, here.

I’ve been rather publicly skeptical about the uptake of cloud computing (though not its significance), compared to some very optimistic prognostications, such as that by my friend and fellow MVP Paul Nielsen.  (For a good generalized discussion about SQL Server in the cloud, take a look at Brent Ozar’s posts here.)  The important thing I think that is being widely overlooked by we in the trenches is that the biggest issues around who will dominate cloud computing and how those specifications will bubble to the top.  We all know and love and work with SQL on a daily basis, yet we forget that databases went through a decades long period in which SQL had no standard.  Similarly, I think many of us are beginning to map our minds around cloud computing in the “this is the ways things are” sort of mind frame, instead of the “this is the new Wild West where anything goes” sort of mind frame.  The closest analogy that comes to mind is that of the serial bus on my venerable Intel 286 PC.  Any time I wanted to connect a product from a new vendor to that serial bus, I had a lot of work ahead.  The USB adapter made everyone’s life better, but it was painful getting there.

Something similar is now being played out in the cloud between Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple.  We can begin to study what sort of applications to deploy in the cloud and how to support them, but if we choose the wrong “serial adapter” we’ll have even more work to do in the future.  One or more of these vendors (and their preferred standards and specifications) will rise to the top.  But until a leader emerges, you can be that I’ll be hedging my bets by building and deploying applications on internal infrastructures and database platforms.

I look forward to your feedback!

-Kev

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