Daily Archives: May 11, 2009

The cloud computing forecast

John Treadway of Cloud Bzz asked my colleague Ben Pring, at our Outsourcing Summit, about how we derived our cloud forecast. Ben’s answer is apparently causing a bit of concern. I figured it might be useful for me to respond publicly, since I’m one of the authors of the forecast.

The full forecast document (clients only, sorry) contains a lot of different segments, which in turn make up the full market that we’ve termed “cloud computing”. We’ve forecasted each segment, along with subsegments within them. Those segments, and their subsegments, are Business Process Services (cloud-based advertising, e-commerce, HR, payments, and other); Applications (no subcategories; this is “cloud SaaS”); Application Infrastructure (platform and integration); and System Infrastructure (compute, storage, and backup).

Obviously, one argue whether or not it’s valid to include advertising revenue, but a key point that should not be missed is that in the trend towards the consumerization of IT, it is the advertiser that often implicitly pays for the consumer’s use of an IT service, rather than the consuer himself. Advertising revenue is a significant component of the overall market, part of the “cloud” phenomenon even if you don’t necessarily think of it as “computing”.

Because we offer highly granular breakouts within the forecast, those who are looking for specific details or who wish to classify the market in a particular way should be able to do so. If you want to define cloud computing as just typical notions of PaaS plus IaaS, for instance, you can probably simply take our platform, compute, and storage line-items and add them together.

Is it confusing to see the giant number with advertising included? It can be. I often start off descriptions of our forecast with, “This is a huge number, but you should note that a substantial percentage of these revenues are derived from online advertising.” and then drill down into a forecast for a particular segment or subsegment of audience interest.

Giant numbers can be splashily exciting on conference presentations, but pretty much anyone doing anything practical with the forecast (like trying to figure out their market opportunity) looks at a segment or even a subsegment.

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The perils of defaults

A Fortune 1000 technology vendor installed a new IP phone system last year. There was one problem: By IT department policy, that company does not change any defaults associated with hardware or software purchased from a vendor. In this case, the IP phones defaulted to no ring tone. So the phone does not ring audibly when it gets a call. You can imagine just how useful that is. Stunningly, this remains the case months after the initial installation — the company would rather, say, miss customer calls, than change the Holy Defaults.

A software vendor was having an interesting difficulty with a larger customer. The vendor’s configuration file, as shipped with the software, has defaults set up for single-server operation. If you want to run multi-server for high availability or load distribution, you need to change some of the defaults in the configuration file. They encountered a customer with the same kind of “we do not change any defaults”. Unsurprisingly, their multi-server deployment was breaking. The vendor’s support explained what was wrong, explained how to fix it, and was confounded by the policy. This is one of the things a custom distribution from the vendor can be used for, of course, but it’s a head-slapping moment and a grotesque waste of everyone’s time.

Now I’m seeing cloud configurations confounding people who have these kinds of policies. What is “default” when you’re picking from drop-down menus? What do you do when the default selection is something other than what you actually need? And the big one: Will running software on cloud infrastructure necessitate violating virgin defaults?

As an analyst, I’m used to delivering carefully nuanced advice based on individual company situations, policies, and needs. But here’s one no-exceptions opinion: “We never ever change vendor defaults” is a universally stupid policy. It is particularly staggeringly dumb in the cloud world, where generally, if you can pick a configuration, it is a supported configuration. And bluntly, in the non-cloud world, configurable parameters are also just that — things that the vendor intends for you to be able to change. There are obviously ways to screw up your configuration, but those parameters are changeable for a reason. Moreover, if you are just using cloud infrastructure but regular software, you should expect that you may need to tune configuration parameters in order to get optimal performance on a shared virtualized environment that your users are accessing remotely (and you may want to change the security parameters, too).

Vendors: Be aware that some companies, even really big successful companies, sometimes have nonsensical, highly rigid policies regarding defaults. Consider the tradeoffs between defaults as a minimalistic set, and defaults as a common-configuration set. Consider offering multiple default “profiles”. Packaging up your software specifically for cloud deployment isn’t a bad idea, either (i.e., “virtual appliances”).

IT management: Your staff really isn’t so stupid that they’re not able to change any defaults without incurring catastrophic risks. If they are, it’s time for some different engineers, not needlessly ironclad policies.

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