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Watch who's jumping on the Cloud bandwagon

You have to wonder whether the inevitable hype surrounding any new computing style will mean that users get sold a bill of goods. Will this one become dominated by big companies?

It seems that there's no shortage of companies eager to jump on the cloud-computing bandwagon. Consider the latest--all within the space of a single week:

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  • AT&T announces its entry into cloud computing.
  • Verizon intends to get into the business by the first half of 2009.
  • Amazon.com makes its second investment in less than a month in a cloud-computing company.
  • Dell reportedly issued a press release in which it tries to trademark the cloud-computing name.
  • And then, of course, there is the rest of the familiar cloud-computing crowd, led by the likes of Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Salesforce.com.

    The funny thing about technology transitions is that one day, we suddenly wake up and decide, "Oh yeah, that's pretty obvious, wasn't it?"

    It happened with client server computing. It happened with the Internet. And it's starting to happen with cloud computing, what with the ever-increasing roster of Web-based products and Cloud-based resources.

    At its most basic, cloud computing extends computer networking and storage services to business customers. This isn't a tough sell. As long as the provider can deliver (mostly) uninterrupted service, it's a good arrangement for all concerned. What's amusing is the latest media stir around cloud computing, which has all the trappings of the proverbial Broadway overnight success years in the making.

    Of course, there is always the suspicion that some tech companies are jumping into cloud computing because they've spotted a good marketing opportunity. Check out my conversation about the state of cloud computing with Dan Farber, where I tongue-in-cheek suggested that it sometimes seems as if we're talking about the IT world's "new black."

    In fact, cloud computing has been around for quite a while. We've been using Web-hosted applications such as e-mail since the mid-1990s. Remember the application service providers, or ASPs? During the dot-com era, they were the forerunners of the concept Marc Benioff successfully implemented with Salesforce.com after the bubble burst.

    Invariably, you have to wonder whether the inevitable hype surrounding a new computing style will result in selling users a bill of goods. In a recent post about cloud computing, Webware's Rafe Needleman makes a great point:

    The Internet can be used to deliver apps and updates, for storage and backup, for social networking and person-to-person communications, and other functions. But for the moment and the near future, you need local processing to maintain speed and robustness of applications, and native graphics capability to present the interface.

    One of the reasons Web 2.0 apps can work well today is because today's browsers have deep user interface and graphics capabilities, and because they run on powerful local PCs. Many popular Web applications--such as Google Docs and Microsoft Live Search Maps--rely on capabilities that were simply not present in PCs only a few years ago.

    Amen to that. Another big uncertainty: whether this field is fated to become dominated by big companies. They are the ones that can afford to pay for the heavy-duty computing storage requirements. Won't that mean that they get to set the rules by which everyone else plays? Something to think about.