Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A metaphor why cloud computing is inevitable

Cloud computing is an infrastructure that collaboratively computes any user-assigned task through all available Internet services. The name "cloud" is a metaphor for the Internet. Cloud computing is also the Internet-based computing.

There are many skeptics of cloud computing. Nicolas Carr mentioned a few in one of his recent posts. Within the comments of Nick's article, however, there are more. Some people believed cloud computing to be nothing more than a marketing term (and they talked about Web 2.0 the same way until now, didn't they?), while some others doubt whether cloud computing could be realistic since "If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's web server, you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software." Does this last accusation sound familiar? I bet.

History is repeating itself now and in the following let us see how.

From manorial economy to modern economy

Once upon a time, manorial economy was dominating. The manorial economy or the style of economic self-sufficiency was popular in both of the western and oriental feudal societies. Under this type of economy, people produce and then consume the stuff they produced nearly all by themselves. Goods exchange happens rarely in this type of economic system.

Then there is modern industrial economy, in which nearly no one may survive solely independent to the others. The input of one company is generally the output of another company unless it takes pure natural resources as the input. In the latter case, however, the company must produce something that is needed by another company or the end consumers (people) in contrast to self-sufficiency. Otherwise the company still cannot survive in the modern economy. In general there is no economic self-sufficiency in modern economy because everyone depends on somebody else.

Now here comes the question: how could this change occur? By revising the previous accusation for cloud computing just a little bit, we may get the following one.

If you use a trademarked product (proprietary program) or somebody else's product line (web server), you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that product (software).

This is right. When our ancestors were trying to abandon the manorial economy and enter the modern economy, they were accused by the exact argument before. So nothing is truly new.

If we take this great transition of economic forms that had already happened in history as a metaphor, it is much easier for us to see the inevitableness of cloud computing. Moreover, this metaphor should have been strong enough to claim that cloud computing is way beyond a marketing term; it is a revolutionary CHANGE.

Lessons learned

So what do we have learned? Change is uneasy, especially to the ones who have benefited from the old format.

Actually few companies is actively anticipating this change now. Traditional firms such as Microsoft and Oracle still are living in their old dream of dominating the market through the proprietary standard policy. They are the old-style manor owners. Newer companies such as Google are acquiring every profitable new innovation into their own territory though they claim to support open standards. They are the new-style manor owners. Therefore, despite both Microsoft and Google speak about cloud computing, what they are doing is enlarging their manors, either in old style or in new style. They are pushing modern economy under the cover of manorial economy. By this mean, it might not be wrong by saying cloud computing to be just a "marketing term." None of the big players at this moment are sincerely preparing for the coming of the true cloud computing because it violates their present interest.

However, history never lies. If only we go over the history of the break of manorial economy in western society or the failure of economic self-sufficiency in China, we must have learned that this change is inevitable disregarding the willingness of the big players at the meantime. Resisting on the change will only lead to the ineluctable failure of the once-glory big names themselves.


Craig Taverner said...

Your argument is correct, but the timescales are worth discussing. The transition of the economies took millenia to accomplish. This can be described further by observing that it is correlated to the idea of economies of scale. Your manorial economies are simply very small 'local' economies. A farmer feeds his family as well as himself. As the economic scope grows, he feeds the village and others provide the tools, etc. This expands to the feudal size, up to nations, and finally the global economy we have now.

So, there were no dramatic transitions from the one extreme to the other, but many smaller steps, with the larger economies ultimately winning, as in your example of china capitulating to the global economy.

And yet, it is not a flat landscape. People still prefer to do business with people they know or identify with more closely. So while the economy is global, there is a strong local bias.

So too with cloud computing. Sure it will increase in usage, but it will take a long time, and there will always be a 'local bias', or an element of partial self-sufficiency.

As usual, companies that completely embrace a new idea rarely do as well as companies that correctly find the right balance between old and new to match the times. In my opinion google is further down the road to cloud computing than Microsoft, but perhaps not as far as others. Could that be why they are doing so well? Because they have not adopted cloud computing all the way (yet).

New small companies cannot compete directly with Microsoft or Google, and need to stake a claim further down the road, and if they are lucky they will identify the sweet spot better than the big boys. Older companies like Microsoft change more slowly, so are easier to compete with in this regard. Google is still relatively young, but slowing down already. I think the next ten years will be very interesting indeed.

Yihong Ding said...

thank you, Craig. I love your comment.

As you said (and indeed I agree), the timing of real cloud computing is not there yet. We will experience many small incremental steps in order to finally reach the ideal state of cloud computing.

On the other hand, however, some company may start to think of this vision though the big players at present are still resisting on it. The collaboration of computation among small IT companies might profit. Some domain-specific computation collaboration organizations may gradually form so that the small corporations may begin to compete with the big players. For instance, the data portability group is a fair example in this category; and we will see more in the future.

I agree to you that cloud computing would not be realized immediately or in just a few years. But it would also not be hundreds of years. On the Web (the virtual world), every evolution process has been accelerated.

Finally, I deeply appreciate your thoughtful comments, and wish to share thoughts with you continuously in the future.