Cloud computing is a hyped-up term, a recent report from Gartner found. But behind the hype there are significant benefits to some technologies in the cloud industry and some of the terms being floated around in the cloud are bigger buzzwords than others.
"The cloud" is a broad term that encompasses many different technologies, similar to the way the Web or the Internet have many different aspects to it, Gartner says. And many of the individual aspects of the cloud computing industry each have their own degree of hype surrounding them. Gartner attempts to put this all in perspective by using its Hype Cycle formula to evaluate more than three dozen specific technologies within cloud computing.
The lifecycle of a technology is broken down into five stages: First there is a trigger for a technology, or a reason it is needed. This then leads to the technology being hyped to the point of a peak of inflated expectations. Following that, there is a trough of disillusionment in which reality about the benefits of a technology are understood. For technologies that are truly meaningful, they stick around for a slope of enlightenment and finally to a plateau of productivity.
The overall cloud computing industry is past its peak of inflated expectations, Gartner says, but other aspects of the cloud computing industry are at various points of the lifecycle.
Some of the biggest buzzwords in cloud computing today are technologies that are at the peak of inflated expectations, Gartner found.
Big data: Big data in the cloud, Gartner says, is an emerging technology near the peak of its inflated expectations. The research firm is high on the potential for big data though, describing it as transformational. The ever increasing number of digital devices is creating an exponential increase in the amount of data volumes. The benefits that could be derived from big data will rapidly accelerate the technology's lifecycle through the trough of disillusionment and into mainstream adoption within two to five years. Some of these big data technologies represent a great leap forward in processing management, Gartner says. Through technologies such as MapReduce and Apache Hadoop, access to big data analytics tools are increasing in the market. Businesses that can leverage that data to their benefit will outperform their competitors, Gartner says.
PaaS: Cloud computing is broken down into three service models, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). Gartner says PaaS, by far, is the most hyped of these terms right now. Think of PaaS as middleware in the cloud, where customized applications can be built and hosted outside of an organization's own data center. Some of the biggest names in on-premise middleware offerings are pushing toward the cloud, including IBM, Oracle, Red Hat and Microsoft. Gartner says that push will only continue. "As leading software vendors adjust their long-term strategies to reflect the emerging importance of cloud computing to their customer and prospect bases, they are investing to establish a leadership position in the middle layer of PaaS," Gartner's report notes.
But, it is still early days, and many of these companies still only have offerings in beta form, including Red Hat and Oracle. Microsoft Azure and VMware Cloud Foundry are two of the leading PaaS plays now, Gartner says. The term is hyped, though, because of the breadth of vendors looking to tap into the space, and the potential for the services that could be included in the PaaS layer, ranging from applications development to integration, business process management, database management and messaging. But in the early stages of the industry few vendors offer those spectrum of services.
After a technology is introduced, its benefits are widely touted by vendors and early adopters. Then reality sets in, or what Gartner describes as the "trough of disillusionment."
Public cloud storage: Not having to buy servers to store your data is one of the chief benefits cloud proponents have advocated. Instead of buying expensive equipment to store all your data on your own site, it can be sent up to the cloud where your provider will hold it and it can be accessed from anywhere, or so goes the Cinderella story of cloud storage.
But in the last year, the realities of the technology have begun to set in, Gartner says. High-profile service outages from some of the biggest names in the cloud industry, including Amazon Web Services and Salesforce.com, have soured some users' appetites for storing mission-critical information in the cloud. Gartner says there are unpredictable usage costs, which turn others off to the technology. The firm recommends exploring public cloud storage options for non-mission critical applications, such as file sharing, archiving and backup. "Gartner does not expect full-scale adoption to occur until cost, legal, security and infrastructure integration issues are sufficiently addressed to reduce the risk of entry by large enterprises," the report states.
Past the Peak
After a technology has been introduced, the market has become disillusioned by it, and then good technologies begin to rebound in popularity, or what Gartner calls a "slope of enlightenment," Gartner says. These are technologies that are market-proven and are entering beyond the hype phase and into the mainstream.
SaaS: Gartner predicts that for the first time, more than half of organizations are using some form of SaaS, which has moved the technology beyond the peak of hype and toward mainstream adoption. But the SaaS market is broad in and of itself, and Gartner notes that while it is proven in some markets, it "remains nascent in complex applications markets, such as ERP." The process of having an application be owned, delivered and managed by a provider, the report says, can create efficiencies for an organization, especially smaller businesses that do not have an IT shop to support application maintenance or the accompanying infrastructure. But, while SaaS may create a savings in the first two years of a deployment because it removes the need for capital expenses, the operational expenses can remain the same, diminishing the net impact of SaaS after a few years.
Virtualization: Virtualization is the process of abstracting an IT resource for its physical hardware, which can be done in a variety of areas, including in compute servers, storage and network. Virtualized servers, which create virtualized machines, are becoming ubiquitous in the market, Gartner says, with more than half of x86 servers being virtualized, a number that Gartner predicts will grow to three-quarters by 2015. Storage virtualization, meanwhile, is similarly advanced but not as widely adopted. Because of the level of adoption of virtualization technologies, Gartner says the technology is past its hype and being adopted in the mainstream.
There are a bevy of technologies that are emerging as the need for them increases. There is a technology trigger for these technologies, but there has not been a hype around the term ... yet.
Community cloud: There is public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud. And then there is the community cloud. The term is not new, but Gartner predicts that it will increase in popularity and use in the coming years. Community clouds are organized by a vendor for a group of like organizations. For example, the New York Stock Exchange has recently set up a cloud for financial service organizations involved with the NYSE, Gartner says. Community clouds allow the organizers to set up parameters that are tailored to the users of the service, allowing for potential economies of scale. There are some concerns, though. If there is a retail community cloud, for example, the service provider may have trouble meeting the demand from all of the retailers it serves during the peak holiday shopping season. And users should beware, Gartner warns: Vendors may attempt to position themselves as a community cloud without offering specialized services specifically for that industry, but charging a premium for that service.
Cloudbursting: Imagine that when your on-premise IT architecture needed extra capacity, for the launch of a product or a sudden, unexpected spike in traffic to your website, that it would automatically add cloud-based resources to meet that peak demand. Such is the technology that cloudbursting could enable, and Gartner says it is coming soon. The two most common use cases are the one described above, or transitioning workloads to a cloud-based environment to free up on-premise capacity for mission critical services. Today, there are ways to enable this capability, but it is mostly done manually, Gartner says, and additional maturation of the technology is needed. It's in the early-enough stages that the term has not yet become over-hyped. "Standards for the seamless exchange of workloads, security and SLA requirements between alternative providers have not yet matured. For this reason, automation of this process will initially be tied to a specific vendor's implementation or will likely require migration/conversion, or, alternatively, the use of identical technologies in both locations," Gartner says.
Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.