Six futures for Cloud computing

Cloud computing tops Gartner's recently released list of Top 10 strategic priorities for CIOs in 2010. Their analysts say that organizations need to be actively considering how to approach the Cloud "in terms of using Cloud services, developing Cloud-based applications and implementing private Cloud computing environments".  That's a daunting list of complex issues to consider over the coming year, but with the Cloud evolving rapidly, CIOs also need to turn their attention to the mid- to long-term.  

So how is Cloud computing likely to evolve over the next ten years? Thierry Coupaye within Orange Labs has been exploring that question and, by analysing current trends and emerging technological developments, have come up with six models of Cloud computing that they believe will emerge over the next decade. 

No one model is independent of the rest. Some are more technology-oriented and some are based on business usage. But together, the six models provide a more structured and usable vision for the possible future of Cloud computing.  

1. The Vertical Cloud 

Vertical Clouds are basically software-as-a-service (SaaS) for particular specialized applications and industry domains. For example, companies with expensive video transcoding software for multimedia services (for example, Web TV) sitting on their servers could turn idle time into a Cloud transcoding services for third parties.  

As applications for specific markets continue to morph into online Cloud offerings, the trend will extend to cover whole classes of applications in vertical markets, such as healthcare or government, deliverd on a SaaS basis. In addition, data center owners and operators, even for niche applications, may follow the Amazon example and turn their spare or idle in-house capacity into Cloud services for external third parties.  

The idea of industry-specific SaaS is not new - but the market for it needs to catch up. Nicholas Carr, author of 2008's 'The Big Switch', a best-selling exploration of the likely economic and social consequences of Cloud computing, first blogged about the "verticalization of the Cloud" two years ago, concluding that it would "make sense for industries characterized by highly specialized applications", such as retail, healthcare and financial services.   

2. The Mobile Cloud 

The Mobile Cloud is about accessing Cloud resources from devices such as mobile phones. Today, most mobile phone users download and execute local applications on the device itself, but increasingly, they will access them through a mobile browser. The application itself and the processing power required for it to run will live in the Cloud.  

Recent research conducted by ABI Research, predicts that by 2014, almost 998 million users of mobile phones will use online applications, compared to 42.8 million in 2008. "By 2014, mobile Cloud computing will become the leading mobile application development and deployment strategy, displacing today's native and downloadable mobile applications," says ABI Research's Mark Beccue.   

That's good news for users. With Cloud-enabled phones, they will be able get access to the internet using devices with lower battery requirements, longer useful lives and that are better adapted for emerging markets. And it's good news for developers of mobile applications, too. Today, they have to develop multiple versions to run on different devices; by contrast, they will need to develop fewer versions for the Cloud. 

3. The Personal Cloud 

The Personal Cloud describes a user-centric model of Cloud computing where an individual's personal content and services are available anytime and anywhere, from whatever device they choose to access it.  

Today, most people have to juggle multiple devices to access all their services. What the personal Cloud could provide is a single and portable access-point to multiple Clouds. And in emerging economies, where people often share mobile devices, each individual would be able to log into their own Cloud from the shared device. 

Frank Gillet, an analyst with Forrester Research, recently authored a report on the Personal Cloud and how it will shift individual computing "from being device-centric to information-centric". He concludes that digital devices and services will combine to create the Personal Cloud, "an internal resource for organizing, preserving, sharing and orchestrating personal information and media." 

 4. The Open Cloud 

In the long term, Cloud computing based on technology standards and open source solutions will compete with and then surpass proprietary solutions. The Open Cloud foresees a model offering customers complete application portability and infrastructure interoperability, so that they aren't 'locked in' to a single Cloud provider.   

Many Cloud providers are already using open source technologies. And standardization efforts, focusing on APIs and middleware, are being spearheaded by a number of industry bodies

In March 2009, for example, a number of leading technology companies published The Open Cloud Manifesto, a set of core principles that aim to ensure that organizations will have "freedom of choice, flexibility and openness as they take advantage of Cloud computing."   

Right now, however, many of the initiatives to open up Cloud computing compete or overlap. 

5. The Inter Cloud 

The Inter Cloud envisions the future Internet as an online marketplace of resources and services, where Cloud brokers help their customers to pick the most suitable providers to meet their needs - a task that many will find increasingly overwhelming as the range of providers and services out there expands.   

These brokers will bring added value through global services that reduce complexity for users. Services might include single billing, metering, network connectivity, end-to-end SLAs, identity and portability aids for service migration, among others.  

"What sits between you and the Cloud will become a critical success factor in Cloud computing as Cloud services multiply and expand faster than the ability of Cloud consumers to manage or govern them in use," said Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer in a recent report on Cloud brokerages. "The growth of service brokerage businesses will increase the ability of Cloud consumers to use services in a trustworthy manner." 

6. The Total Cloud 

The Total Cloud will enable organizations to complement their data center resources with the unused capacity of 'edge resources', such as PCs or even consumer devices such as gaming platforms, which could provide extra storage capacity, processing power and bandwidth. But while there is a large amount of unused IT capacity at the network's edge in such devices, this vision is some way off, due to the considerable technological, regulatory and market concerns that could stand in its way.  


Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.