Sunday, 27 April 2008

Cloud Computing and Web 2.0

Don’t you just hate it when another woolly ambiguous term is forced upon us? When I was approached by yet another journalist the other day asking me my thoughts on the impact of cloud computing, I simply sighed and told them it is a bit like Web 2.0. In itself, it is difficult to pin down exactly what is meant by it. The best you can do is say that both of these terms refer to a general direction in which the industry appears to be moving.

In the case of Web 2.0, it is about the Web becoming a generally more interactive medium. This can manifest itself at a technology level through everything from Ajax through mash-ups to SOA, and at a behavioural level through social media and the simple fact that websites are generally now more geared up to a two-way dialogue than they used to be.

In the case of cloud computing, it is about the evolution of dynamic virtualised infrastructure that allows us to think more in terms of resource pools than individual IT components. This in turn opens the door to delivering computing resource on a utility basis, which is equally applicable both internally (i.e. with regard to the way you use your data centre) and externally – which takes you into the realm of utility computing and software as a service.

The point about both Web 2.0 and cloud computing is that they both sprung up arbitrarily on the evolutionary timeline, and seeming embraced anything and everything that could be thrown into the mix. While the very specific phenomenon of social networking is certainly noteworthy, this bears little relationship to evolution of rich user interfaces and composite applications, in fact many social networking sites have appalling UIs by traditional standards. Yet Web 2.0 can mean either of these things, and, confusingly, lots of other concepts too.

Similarly, we have been talking about virtualisation ultimately leading to computing grids and utility computing for years, and giving it a new name doesn’t actually change anything in terms of the underlying trend. In fact, you knew where you stood much better when you could talk about virtualisation and grid technology as the enabling stuff, and utility computing and application services as what it enables. As everyone jumps onto the cloud computing bandwagon, it all gets mixed up and confused, just like Web 2.0.

So, if you are one of those people wondering what cloud computing is really all about after listening the IBM explanation, the Microsoft one, and the evangelical rhetoric we have heard recently from the Google and camp, don’t worry, you are not alone. The trick is to think of it as a label for a trend at one level, and an industry bandwagon at another, and keep your expectations pretty low in terms of clarity and consistency for the time being. Don’t however, dismiss the underlying trend it itself. While we are not looking at a revolution here, some of the developments in this general area are really quite interesting and valuable – though, you probably knew that already, even before the marketing hype was thrust upon us.