The Cloud: Looking Forward

It is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, and as technologists, we have quite a bit for which to be thankful, as we live in interesting times. We live between the computing that was (mainframes, PCs, etc.) and the computing of tomorrow (fully functioning cloud). We live within a hybrid world. We are no longer chained to our desks with their big and clunky terminals or computers, but instead we can roam freely around the world (and even into the atmosphere), accessing anything we want, including pictures, files, data, documents, and more (even those pesky cats that inhabit the Internet). With such access comes great power, and with great power comes responsibility.

In many ways, I envision the cloud of the future to be very much like what we used to see on Star Trek: The Next Generation: everyone has an LCARS pad (tablet or smartphone), and from there they can access anything on the ship (the cloud). Yet, there seem to be only two or three people who can actually fix the ship (the cloud). Programming is done by calling on the computer to do something specific (Siri, anyone?) or by those two or three knowledgeable people. Even so, they still live in a hybrid cloud world. That is because, to me, “the hybrid cloud” is not a simple definition.

The definition of the hybrid cloud starts with the users, specifically how the users interact with the cloud. Until the cloud is sufficiently pervasive that we do not need to carry anything (such as Google Glass) or interact with smart devices (which have more power and functionality than most of yesterday’s computers), we are still using something other than the cloud to access the cloud. Therefore, we have to think not only about the cloud but about the device accessing the cloud. To be honest, I am not sure I would like an all-pervasive cloud that functions such that all I need is to ask it to do something, and suddenly that thing occurs. Perhaps that is the djinni that needs to stay in the bottle, as any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. We could be we headed to a future in which the computer does everything for us via nanites (an idea that comes from a short story based on Kieth Laumer’s Bolos, which, if you like science fiction, is a pretty quick read and that shows another view of a future private cloud).

What we consider to be the cloud has been discussed in the past, but what we miss is actual interaction with the cloud. As stated previously, interacting with the cloud is not about moving workloads from one data center to another. Rather, it is about how the users interact with the environment, where they go within that environment, and how they pull data across the environment, as well as where that data ends up. To manage the environment, secure the environment, and protect the data within the environment, we must look at the intersection of the users, the data, and the applications that react to the user and act upon data. This intersection is where the next generation of tools, applications, and products will play out, though we should remember that not everyone wants to store things they consider private anywhere but on their own device, and that sometimes the older products must still work.

We still have quite far to go. We have easily transitioned older workloads to the cloud, but now we need to start thinking about rebuilding those applications to meet the requirements of the users and to protect user privacy as well as to secure the data and the corporate entity behind the data.

The near future will be one of designing tools and applications that meet, aid in, protect, and act as a conduit for the intersection of the data, the user, and the application. Those products that miss this intersection will be short-lived indeed. The long term, however, is pretty much an unknown. Some believe there will only be a few VERY large clouds and that all workloads will be in them; others believe the cloud is a fad, just like ASP was a fad; and still others believe there will always be a need for local systems. No matter how you look at it, from the users’ perspective, there will be a hybrid cloud landscape for quite a while.

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