In January of 2008, dreading the idea of a cliche "prediction" post, I wrote a post that attempted to somewhat humorously outline seven businesses that would result from the then nascent cloud computing movement. As I look back at that post this year, I'm surprised to find myself thinking that most--if not all--of these should appear in one form or another in the coming year.
Here's the list, with my updated commentary from this year in italics:
SaaSEnterprise data conversion practice: All those existing enterprise apps will need to have their data migrated to that trendy new SaaS tool; and should anyone actually decide they hate their first vendor, they'll be spending that money again to convert to the next choice. Perhaps they'll even get fed up and return to traditional enterprise software. Easy money.
This item was confronting the unfortunate truth that most SaaS options are built on proprietary (or "single platform", in the case of open source) database schemas. That fact alone means that getting enterprise data out of that highly customized on-premise HR application and into the cloud will take some real technical skill, as will changing or reversing that decision. I still believe that this will be a major portion of systems integrator revenue around SaaS adoption, especially for "commodity" functions like HR and finance.
Enterprise Integration as a Service: No matter how much functionality one SaaS vendor will provide, it will never be enough. Integration will always be necessary, but where/how will it be delivered? Go for the gold with a browser based integration option. Just figure out how to do it better/cheaper/faster than force.com, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc...
There have been some good attempts at moving EAI into the cloud (see Boomi), but I think this is the year that we will see enterprise class offerings from IBM, Microsoft, and others make their debut. I also wouldn't be surprised if Amazon or Salesforce.com didn't have something up their sleeves here. It's just too important a platform to ignore.
SaaS meter consolidation service: Given the problem stated in number two above, who wants five or six bills where its impossible to trace the cost of a transaction across vendors? Provide a single billing service that consolidates the charges of the vendor stable and provides additional analytic capabilities to break down where costs and revenues come from. Then get ready to defend yourself against the data ownership walls put up by those same vendors (see four below).
This is probably the offering I am least sure will appear in 2010, but there are some signs that people understand the challenge. If you have an application with its front end running on Google App Engine, its business logic on Force.com, and its data analysis on Amazon Web Services, will there be a way to track the costs of that application through a single invoice? I'd like to think, but they seemingly remain blind to it.
(Cloud) Customer litigation practice: Given the example of Scoble's experience with Facebook, there are clearly a lot of sticky legal issues to be worked out about "who owns what." Ride that gravy train with litigation expertise in data ownership, vendor contractual obligations and the role of code as law.
As 2008 began, Robert Scoble had his Facebook account shut down for running an automated script to harvest his social network data from that service. The uproar that followed demonstrated one of the truly sticky subjects of cloud computing: who owns and governs the data residing in a public cloud service?
Unfortunately, that question remains unanswered, leaving me to believe there are still a few landmark court cases yet to appear in U.S., EU, and worldwide courts. Of course, today I would probably add cloud malpractice litigators to the mix...
SaaS industry (or SaaS customer) data ownership rights lobbyist: Given 4 above, each industry player is going to want their voice in Congress to protect/promote their interest. Drive the next set of legislation that screws up online equality and individual rights.
While some would argue with me, I think there is a huge policy battle around cloud waiting in the wings, and I know for a fact that several large cloud providers are already lining up lobbyists to drive policy beneficial to their businesses. I am not yet aware of consumer or enterprise focused lobbying, but I believe strongly it is only a matter of time.
Sys Admin retraining specialist: All those sys admins who will be out of work thanks to cloud computing are going to need to be retrained to monitor SLAs across external vendor properties, and to get good at waiting on hold for customer service representatives.
In point of fact, "retraining" of sys admins is already happening, though mostly through a combination of voluntary experimentation with cloud services, active projects, and the effects of virtualization on the data center. However, new technologies that make the cloud hum for a sys admin, like Puppet and Chef, will introduce opportunities to offer courses in advanced applications. Add to this the training in architectures and operations that developers now require to really excel at cloud computing, and you have a terrific business opportunity.
Handset recycling services: The rate at which "specialized" hardware will evolve will raise the rate of obsolescence to a new high. Somebody is going to make a killing from all those barely used precious metals, silicon, and LCD screens going to waste. Why not you?
Of course, there are already a variety of charities and businesses playing in this space. However, two facts are important to note: much of the charity work benefits developing countries, and the rate of obsolescence for cell phone technology hasn't slowed one iota.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not predicting that these businesses are a shoe-in. On the contrary, I think the form that ANY of these businesses take will likely surprise most of us. However, as I look ahead at 2010, it's amazing to me how many of the unsolved problems of 2008 are only just now getting addressed. To those of you addressing them, good luck in 2010.