Cloud Society: can we really predict future trends in cloud?

Opinion Jon Collins Nov 10, 2012

Beware of false prophets when it comes to cloud computing: many of the predictions on cloud will turn out to be false

If one thing sets cloud computing apart from other so-called technology trends, it is that it doesn’t have any specific link to a distinct subset of physical technologies.

While many trends tend to associate a set of technical components with an over-arching philosophy (Big Data is one), Cloud is primarily about the philosophy – dynamic provision, hosted or internal, pay as you scale and so on.

As a philosophy, it therefore lends itself (like, perhaps, the above paragraph) to much discussion and debate. In examples of trends founded on technical components, such debate usually fizzles out to be replaced by the much simpler question of, "So, do you want some then?" While this is possible for some specific cloud-based services – hosted CRM or backup, say - no punter ever walks into a shop and says, "I’d like to buy some cloud."

Which presents a conundrum when it comes to predictions. To predict the state of play of a technology involves questions such as: Will it or won’t it be adopted? In what sectors? Who will be the winners and losers? – which can be answered, in broad terms. Predicting the evolution of a philosophy is not only more tricky; it is also, by its nature, tautological. Will we see more about whether or not there will be more of something? Even if the answer is yes, it leaves people none the wiser.

Rather than vanishing into my own navel, I would therefore simply advise caution when it comes to cloud predictions. The first area to keep real is any notion of sizing the "cloud market". The dubious habit of all and sundry jumping on the latest bandwagon put the whole question of cloud sizing into doubt. One of my favourite examples of cloud-washing was a storage archiving vendor who, in fact, relied on shipping of tapes to its storage facility.

 IT departments will not turn into cloud service brokerages, not in 2013 or any other year

Second, any questions about crossing the chasm, riding the tornado or whatever need to be handled with kid gloves. Cloud cannot fall into the trough of disillusion, whether or not people get bored of the concept, because it was happening anyway and will continue to do so.

Last but certainly not least, are notions that cloud computing will in some way turn technologists into strategists, geeks into business people, give CIOs a place on the board or whatever. To do so ignores the reality that technology gives people more than enough to do; it also confuses over-optimistic management theory with the truth of how both IT and business are really done. Let’s be specific: IT departments will not turn into cloud service brokerages, not in 2013 or any other year.

So, will anything happen with cloud in the coming times? Yes – in that the term itself will simply embed itself into technology culture, as a way of expressing a certain delivery model. It won’t go away, but neither will it remain something which tries to represent all that is new and improved about IT. No doubt we shall see new and innovative ways of combining hosted services delivery with the growing wealth of options – my money’s on the Internet of Things, by the way.

But we are, thankfully, moving away from the idea that any one model will transcend the rest – or its equally self-evident counter-claim, the ‘making the best of all options’ approach. Cloud computing as ‘a’ model and not ‘the’ model will continue to evolve and develop into the future, which is about the only prediction anyone can make.

Jon Collins

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Jon is an author, technology commentator and director at Inter Orbis, which researches the impact of technology on business and society. With over 20 years’ in the technology industry, Jon has a deep understanding of the global infrastructures, software architectures, and governance models required to make communities work..

In Jon’s varied career he has been IT manager, software consultant, training manager, IT security expert and industry analyst. He was named European analyst of the year by the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations in 2009..

Outside of technology, Jon has authored several books about music including bands such as Marillion and Rush, Jon is currently writing two books about the impact of the Internet on business and society, and is researching a novel about the violinist, Paganini.