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The future of the cloud

The cloud is omnipresent at the Web 2.0 Summit as industry executives discuss the migration from the client to millions of virtualized servers as the information pipe.

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO Dan Farber/CNET News

SAN FRANCISCO--The cloud was omnipresent at the Web 2.0 Summit as industry executives discussed the migration from the client to millions of virtualized servers as the information pipe.

"There is a lot of hype. We think about the cloud as the next evolution in computing," said Cisco Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior. "It's a way of abstracting the services and applications from the physical resources and using a more on-demand layer."

Warrior believes that cloud computing will evolve from private and stand-alone clouds to hybrid clouds, which allow movement of applications and services between clouds, and finally to a federated "inter-cloud."

"We will have to move to an 'inter-cloud,' with federation for application information to move around. It's not much different from the way the Internet evolved. It will take us a few years to get there. We have to think about security and load balancing and peering," she said. "Flexibility and speed at which you can develop and deploy applications are the basic advantages that will drive this transformation."

Warrior laid out the cloud-computing stack as having four layers: IT foundation, flexible infrastructure, platform as a service, and applications (software as a service). Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, noted that platforms as a service, such as or Microsoft's forthcoming Azure, present a challenge for developers. "Developers have to make big bets and choose a platform. I think there is room to see other sources of technology that are more open and standardized," he said.

Paul Maritz, Kevin Lynch, Dave Giroaurd, and Marc Benioff at the Web 2.0 Summit panel on cloud computing. Dan Farber/CNET News

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch, acknowledged that compatibility at the cloud platform layer is a problem. "The level of lock-in in the cloud in terms of applications running and data aggregation is at a risky juncture right now in terms of continuity," he said.

Dave Giroaurd, president of Google Enterprise, brought up the potential legal tangles of moving intellectual property between clouds. "It's an unclear area of the law as to who owns what," he said. CEO Marc Benioff touted integration between his platform and Google and Facebook as an example the way cloud services can be mashed up.

Eventually, cloud computing providers at all of the layers will become more open and adhere to standards that allow for federation and movement between clouds. Maritz sees cloud computing as helping to drive the information economy and stimulate new information marketplaces.

"The challenge is how to selectively and securely make information available so other parties can add value," he said. But just having the data and applications in the cloud won't be enough to create dynamic information marketplaces. "We need to find new data representations and ways to annotate data," Maritz said. Indeed, cloud computing won't be very compelling without what is variously called Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web.