Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Hybrid and IoT themes from CloudExpo

Screen Shot 2016 06 08 at 11 46 32 AM

There are a couple of themes that I seem to keep running into and this week at CloudExpo was no exception. Neither is exactly new. In fact, the first is something that some of us have been saying for a very long time. But both seem to have crossed some threshold to become a widely-understood normal.

The first of these is the acknowledgement that computing is heterogeneous and hybrid. From my perspective, this is barely worth remarking upon at this point with so many companies flinging around the word “hybrid” with wild abandon—however newly they’ve come to this particular reality. 

At this point, let me mention that I wrote a piece for CNET titled “There is no Big Switch for Cloud Computing” in 2009 when I was still an analyst. The Big Switch in question being the title of Nick Carr’s book in which he laid out the argument for an electric grid-like utility for computing. And my now-employer, Red Hat, has likewise been talking about portability across hybrid physical, virtual, private, and public cloud environments for almost as long.

Nonetheless, IBM’s Phil Jackson felt the need to emphasize the hybrid theme in his CloudExpo keynote. By itself, this probably wouldn’t have caught my attention given how many vendors are now belatedly embracing hybrid environments in their pitches. 

However, by coincidence, I also got into a conversation with John Mark Troyer, formerly of VMware and a generally smart guy. It started with his comment about “multi cloud” being a driver of projects like Kubernetes and DCOS (Mesos). He added that he was mostly thinking about "how conventional wisdom has shifted quickly from AWS-only to multi-cloud” and that "despite recent Oracle-Google ruling, cloning a hostile API is still not for the faint of heart."

He’s right. It wasn’t that long ago that there was a significant school of thought that the AWS API was key to any cloud strategy. That was essentially the whole basis of Eucalyptus’ business plan—allow organizations to build an AWS-compatible cloud. (HP bought Eucalyptus in 2014.) 

There are a variety of reasons why API compatibility with AWS largely dropped off the cloud agenda. That discussion would deserve its own piece. Suffice it to say though that there’s effectively been an ongoing and steady movement away from the view of cloud as a homogenized commodity toward something that’s hybrid in place, hybrid in service type (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), and hybrid in the types of capabilities offered, and hybrid in the audience for which it’s designed.

The second is that IoT discussions can be maddeningly unfocused. It’s about so many largely orthogonal topics that it’s hard to talk about technologies, business models, ecosystems, etc. associated with IoT except in the most general sense. Sure, we can define it as the interface between the physical and the digital world or we can discuss how IoT uses data to gain insights and optimize actions. But that’s really broad. As my colleague Kurt Seyfried wrote me: "Saying IoT is like 'Shipping of Things,' aka every business using the post/delivery system... It's too generic to be useful."

As I wrote after the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Connected Things 2016 event: "IDC’s Vernon Turner admitted that "It is a bit of a wrestling brawl to get a definition.” (For those who don’t know IDC, they’re an analyst firm that is in the business of defining and sizing markets so the fact that IDC is still trying to come to grips with various aspects of defining IoT is telling.) 

We’ve had something of the same issue with cloud. (I also wrote “Just don’t call them private clouds” in 2009.) And I imagine that, at the end of the day, we’ll muddle through in more or less the same way. But it’s worth at least observing that consumer wearables and smart home devices have little in common with industrial IoT solutions. For that matter, it’s unclear the degree to which solutions associated with healthcare, retail, agriculture, “smart cities,” and logistics/transportation will have in common beyond some sensor technology. 

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