Recently I had the pleasure to have an extended and insightful conversation with Shannon Williams, VP of Market Development for Cloud Platforms at Citrix. We discussed a range of topics related to how he sees businesses leveraging cloud to grow, his perspectives on the industry at large, and where he sees the space developing.
Gathering Clouds: What’s your view on current cloud industry landscape?
Shannon Williams: We are in the first inning of a long game of modernizing IT, and so what it means over the next year to even 10 years, is that we are going to see changes really start to penetrate into the everyday lives of IT managers, particularly the way application developers and architects think about building services and bringing new apps to market. Since it’s early, it’s also volatile. There are so many things happening, so many different trends going on and it is still a time of learning and experimenting. We’re a long way from being able to quantify the impact cloud computing will have and how it is going to change the cost of delivering IT services but we know the influence is very real. A ton of innovative companies are emerging, a lot of interesting open source projects are underway and what we’re talking about now probably won’t be the same as what we’re talking about next year.
GC: On the issue of change, what do you think about the moves being made by the major industry players?
SW: There is a lot of innovation and testing of different business models taking place. We are also seeing a lot of companies getting acquired. People are starting to think about not simply building the cloud, but how they are going to develop additional capabilities and services within and around it. So companies are being inquisitive, looking for technologies and solutions that can actually help differentiate their offerings. For example, companies like Google shifting from a PaaS only view, which was their app engine, to now getting into Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a really interesting move. I think you can say the same thing about Microsoft, shifting from Azure to Azure instances, which is much more Amazon-like.
I think all of these moves are helping validate Amazon in terms of their model and price point. It’s remarkable the amount of success their platform has had and it is the single biggest story in the early innings of cloud computing. Amazon’s model is proving to be very popular and resilient, and now you’re seeing people mimicking it, essentially taking a page from Amazon’s book to compete with them. Two years ago I was hearing a lot of dismissive comments about them, about it not being something enterprises would consider, how it wasn’t something valuable for a company like HP to do. But 2 years later HP is leading the charge saying, “we’re going to be the Amazon for the enterprise, we want to be Amazon-like, and develop much more Amazon-esque services.”
If I look out three to four years, I think we will look back and say, “wow, it happened very quickly, but the Amazon model really took off and reshaped the way data centers were built and managed as well as how applications are developed.”
GC: On the issue of big companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, is there a contender to Amazon? And with the acquisition rate, is there innovation that can occur still?
SW: Absolutely, we are just at the beginning of the innovation curve. I think, for example, that there is still a huge amount of innovation possible in the telecommunication market and that started 150 years ago with Bell. There’s an enormous amount of innovation still happening around cloud computing, whether it’s at the networking level, inside the enterprise, or even in the maturity of the technologies. Amazon and even orchestration systems like CloudPlatform – they’re simply engines. How they are leveraged and what they are engineered to do – this is where we also see innovation occurring. This is evident in what Google, Microsoft, HP, and others are doing to validate the Amazon design and architecture. And while this model is becoming a popular one, I don’t think it holds 100% true. For example, VMware is taking a very different approach and saying “the engine hasn’t changed much from how we used it for server virtualization.” But if you look at a company like Engineyard – they’re innovating on top of these systems in ways that make it so much easier to manage and deploy applications. That is an incredibly sticky service. And look at what
Rightscale has done on top of Amazon in terms of helping companies manage applications from the private, public and even multiple public clouds, helping businesses respond to triggers happening in real time and reduce the maintenance footprint. I think that is where more innovation will continue to happen, up the stack. And there’s still a lot to happen in the underlying components. I am personally very excited about what we’re working on with Apache CloudStack, and there is tremendous support and contribution of great ideas and innovation that is fantastic to unfold.
GC: With the changing nature of the cloud, how do you articulate what the value is currently, and what it will be in 2 years?
SW: The value of the cloud is probably more than I can handle but I’ll tell you what I see happening. When I speak to enterprises and organizations who are trying to leverage cloud, you can think about benefits in two ways: near and long-term. Let me start with long-term, because it’s the one that everyone knows: between megaclouds and clouds designed for specific environment workloads and applications, there’s going to be standardization and you’re going to be able to effectively, from any part of the world, tap into resources that are very utility like. You know how they are going to behave and they are all going to be very similar in capability. This type of standardization will reduce the cost of infrastructure and workloads will become less expensive and more reliable.
Some companies are already experiencing this value today. Startups that are effectively building their businesses from scratch on top of a cloud providers’ infrastructure or even multiple cloud providers, are reaping the reward of standardization with a lower cost of capital needed to build a technical solution. For big web companies as well, and I’m thinking of the big name websites, most are already building and distributing applications that take advantage of standardized infrastructure. For those organizations the value proposition is inexpensive, elastic and scalable compute, standardized across multiple places and charged based on usage.
However, this is not really the case yet for most enterprises. For many, putting applications on the cloud will not necessarily yield what they need nor are they ready to consume that utility even if was available. It will be a while before their applications can be rewritten to efficiently consume cloud infrastructure. So near term, the value prop that is driving the enterprise is more around flexibility and time to market, rapid deployments of apps, and business agility. For example, we are working with a big healthcare company and they have set up their own internal shadow IT department for innovation that helps business units in the company fast track the IT process to access the cloud and have infrastructure up and running in a matter of days with tools that deliver business value.
These very elements are driving public and private cloud usage – not standardization and cost reduction at a broad level. However I think that’s going to change. Ten years from now, the utility value will be perceived as the highest value that will be pulled from the cloud, and everyone will be using it.
By Jake Gardner