Recently we had the pleasure of having an extended conversation with Barb Darrow, Senior Writer at GigaOM on the cloud beat. Our discussion was wide-ranging, covering her perspectives on the major trends in the cloud space, how cloud is driving innovation, enterprise cloud adoption, and much more.
Gathering Clouds: How did you got involved covering the cloud space?
Barb Darrow: I’ve been a reporter for more than 20 years –a technology reporter for most of that. When I came to GigaOm last year, “Cloud” was the beat I picked up. I covered it part-time before that. But now, I am a full-time cloud reporter here.
GC: What the biggest trends that you’re seeing from the service provider side?
BD: The biggest trend I see is that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has, over the past four or so years, completely blindsided the tech industry. We did a panel at Structure Europe in October where I interviewed a panel cloud providers, mostly from Europe. One of them said, “Who would’ve thought that we’d all be outgunned by a bookseller?” And I think these companies have been spending the last three years – and I’m talking about HP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft – trying to figure out how to get this into this market before Amazon runs away with it. That’s the biggest story, looking at it as a reporter, because of the drama involved.
GC: What about from the tech development side of the companies that are innovating?
BD: There’s a lot of interesting companies there. In the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) space, there’s a ton of companies trying to exploit the OpenStack brand and other open source clouds and attempt to build market differentiation. In the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) space, there’s also a bunch of companies that are trying to build on the CloudFoundry infrastructure that VMware acquired and put out there. The traction there is a lot more noise than actual traction. Heroku on Salesforce.com, has gotten some traction. There’s a bunch of little companies like AppFog that are doing interesting things in the PaaS space. On the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) side, Salesforce.com has kind of set the standard. It’s funny that when people now pitch themselves to me, they’ll say, “We want to be the Salesforce.com of data warehouses,” or, “We want to be the Salesforce.com of business intelligence.” So Salesforce.com is such an early innovator there. But now it’s starting to see some stiff competition.
GC: On the issue of “the battle of the mega clouds” so to speak, how do you see HP, Microsoft, Google taking on AWS in any real way?
BD: Microsoft did a really interesting thing: it saw what Amazon was doing and then it tried to one up Amazon by coming out with a very rich PaaS. And then a funny thing happened: people seemed to want to simply spin up virtual machines and other incremental processes. They weren’t that interested in a full-fledged PaaS. Microsoft has a really great platform, but I just don’t see a ton of traction there yet. And when you talk to people, they feel the technology is great. Microsoft has said all the right things when appealing to folks outside their traditional constituency; for example they announced support for non .net languages and for a bunch of open source stuff. Yet, I just don’t see the a ton of adoption there.
Now Microsoft is trying to kind of come back and offer more incremental IaaS capabilities to match what Amazon has done. Meanwhile, Amazon is increasingly offering PaaS services. So basically Amazon is coming up the stack towards PaaS, and Microsoft is coming down the stack toward IaaS.
Google is really interesting because they just came out with their Google Compute Engine in June, and I’ve already seen some pretty interesting companies say that they’re going to support that along with Amazon. I think Cloudscaling is one of these companies. They’re going to say, “Look, you can use our IaaS, but if you need to scale up, you can burst into either Amazon’s cloud or Google Compute Engine. We’ll support both sets of APIs.” That’s interesting to me. When you think about it, Google definitely knows how to scale things.
HP, as you’ve probably noticed, is having a real struggle on its hands on many fronts. Recently, there was a bunch of news, not related to their cloud strategy, but related to HP’s acquisition of Autonomy. HP has enterprise customers, and they are basically trying to say to them, “Look, if you want an enterprise cloud, we are going to offer you the SLAs that you’re used to in the on-premises world.” And that might be appealing to folks. The problem with Amazon is IT also has SLAs, but they’re worded in such a way and that you’re not necessarily going to get much money back in the case of a lapse in service. You might get credits or whatever. Rackspace is another company that’s trying to go after enterprise accounts and differentiating itself with support.
GC: On this notion of cloud in the enterprise, what is the primary roadblock for cloud adoption at the enterprise level?
BD: I think a lot of it is fear. The developers within corporations have leapt in with both feet because they are now able to bypass internal IT departments and just say, “Look, we’ll go spin up some instances. We’ll do some development. We’ll do it on AWS. We’ll expense it and get paid for it later.” So there’s no resistance on the development front. However, there is resistance from the management and IT departments because they’re afraid of losing control of their budgets, as well as of what’s going on outside the structures of their organizations.
I think there’s also real hesitance to put the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), the big databases, etc., out into an external cloud at this point. Some of that is related to technology issues. Some of it is governance and regulatory issues. And those are the hurdles that are going to be tough. But when it comes to developers, and even marketing people, they are generally using Salesforce.com, outside the purview of internal IT. To sum up, what’s slowing adoption is IT people who are worried about adoption, and perhaps C-level execs to some extent.
GC: So you’re getting pitched every day, all day. How big a role does marketing positioning play into how we, as a collective audience, come to understand the cloud?
BD: Well, that’s a good question. Given the amount of cloudwashing (when a company attaches the word “cloud” to its non-cloud products and sells them that way) that goes on. I think that companies believe that marketing makes a huge difference. However, I’m not so sure that customers do. It does help to have a market leader that you can point to as an example of what you’re offering. Like I was saying before with companies who position themselves as being “the Salesforce.com of data warehousing,” it’s almost like a movie pitch. It does help people to get their mind around the idea, but then they have to go do their homework. Is it really cloud? Is it managed services? Is it elastic in that you can scale up and down as needed? Or is it more just a hosting situation? So I think marketing is important initially, but I think smart IT buyers have to go beyond that in their considerations.
GC: Do you feel that marketing is not driving the charge or is secondary to what the actual value is of any given product or technology?
BD: I think marketing is important. But I just can’t see companies buying based on marketing alone. One of the pitches I get all the time, more than anything else, is on cloud storage. And for me, it’s like if someone has a cloud storage pitch, I just almost immediately want to hit delete. So for me marketing definitely has the opposite effect.
GC: Focusing more on your specific role, who are you writing your pieces to? And what audience do you feel gets the most out of what you’re writing?
BD: GigaOM is an interesting case because historically GigaOM has been really strong in mobile news. But we’re getting more into enterprise computing now. So, our audience is kind of an interesting mix of venture capitalists that are looking at startups, and a lot of them are in the mobile field. But a ton of them are now in cloud startups as well.
We also get a lot of readership from startup companies who are looking for venture capital or just looking for coverage, since we do a lot of funding news. We do a lot of “coming out of stealth” news stories. And then, there are more traditional enterprise IT buyers who basically read everything. Our HP stories do really well because although HP has been a little bit of a car wreck lately, there’s just a ton of HP customers out there. There’s also a ton of executives who have come out of HP that are at other companies now. And there are tens of thousands of HP partners out there. I write with them in mind to some extent, as well as to traditional IT consumers. So we’re kind of a mix.
By Jake Gardner