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Cloud Computing and 'Power to the People'

By Jeffrey Kaplan
March 29, 2011

Like many consultants and others in the tech industry, I do a fair amount of travel. This past week, I was in London and New York City, and was struck by how prevalent the Cloud has become no matter where I go.

Banners promoting EMC’s cloud computing capabilities hung above the elevated walkway between central parking and the terminals at Boston’s Logan Airport (my home base) as I kicked off my travels. The first billboard greeting me as I drove out of Heathrow Airport was about the Cloud, courtesy of Microsoft.

It seems everywhere you go everyone is talking about the Cloud, driven in part by the escalating advertising campaigns of a widening assortment of tech vendors.

Salesforce.com book-ended the Super Bowl half-time show with a pair of animated ads promoting its new Chatter.com offering. Microsoft has even created a fair amount of controversy by simplifying the meaning of the Cloud in its TV ads to appeal to consumers and corporate decision-makers within small businesses, who are increasingly one and the same.

The opinions of end users are a key element in the rapid evolution of the Cloud Computing market. Vendors are increasingly appealing to end-users, both in their advertising and in the way they design their solutions. It is all part of the consumerization of IT which began with corporate workers making their own choices about their laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices. This happened as companies pushed them out of their corporate offices and encouraged them to work from home or the road.

The empowerment of the end-user then proceeded to transform the software industry with the advent of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) alternatives to legacy, on-premise enterprise applications. These targeted disgruntled employees seeking an easier and more productive way to get their jobs done.

Salesforce.com set the tone by targeting renegade salespeople fed up with traditional CRM and SFA systems. And now SaaS options are overtaking nearly every established business app.

Amazon capitalized on the success of SaaS and the growing preference among end-users for on-demand alternatives by launching the first truly cost-effective pay-as-you-go computing service. With little fanfare and a limited budget, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has quickly become a billion dollar a year business while fundamentally changing the nature of the hosting, outsourcing and hardware industries.

No one is sure who first coined the term “Cloud Computing,” and people still debate how to define it. But there is no question that more and more people want to take advantage of the tangible and measurable benefits that a growing array of Cloud services have to offer.

Just as a being ‘Green’ became a corporate necessity in order to gain favor in the marketplace, offering Cloud services as a part of a tech or software vendor’s product portfolio is also becoming essential. The pivotal nature of Cloud services in leading companies’ corporate strategies was dramatically illustrated by the attention given to Leo Apotheker’s ‘vision’ of HP’s plans and positioning on March 14.

Now, the concern is whether the “Cloud Washing,” which some vendors are doing to rebrand or repackage their existing capabilities to make them relevant in the Cloud, will derail the market’s growth.

In this case, I think the wisdom of the crowd – i.e., the enlightened and empowered consumer – will prevent vendors from undoing the momentum of this market and will push them to continue to deliver increasingly powerful solutions via the Cloud.

Kaplan is Managing Director of THINKstrategies (www.thinkstrategies.com), an independent consulting firm focused on the business implications of the on-demand services movement. He is also the founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace (www.cloudshowplace.com). He can be reached at jkaplan@thinkstrategies.com.