For all the attention this week about the cloud, it’s evident that it is pretty much a distraction when considering what is really happening. Developers are lifting the cloud, not the other way around.
The big guns of tech are aligning because they have to. It’s a defensive move to serve their existing customer base. It’s not like the old kings are showing substantial revenue increases for new software licenses. But consolidating power to offer legacy technology does show that the cloud is anything you want to call it.
In their new definition of the cloud, the IT-heavy enterprise gets a new version of that old-school database to run the software installed 10 or 15 years ago. An operating system built for the desktop and client/server age can be recast as a cloud service. Older SaaS companies can work with former on-premise foes and happily proclaim that what worked for the past 14 years will be just fine for another two generations or more. Just like cowbell, there is never enough.
But these moves to align CRM and operating systems with legacy databases are not about innovation. They are simply meant to keep the status quo and offer the bread and butter business that have earned them billions in revenue. The real innovation is in the new genre of databases, developer frameworks, social coding services and the APIs enriched with context through data analysis. It’s not to say the cloud lacks value. It has plenty of that. The cloud is really all about value. Prices continue to drop for compute and storage. On Joyent, a developer can now pay by the second.
But look deep into the infrastructure and there are signs even there of the developer’work. Hearing more about this idea of the software-defined data center? It’s this concept that software, not metal switches, do the work with APIs connecting it all together. The APIs connect networks, data stores, all forms of clients and databases, etc. It’s the act of the network going to the app instead of the other way around.
So all the big machines and the pipes are getting abstracted, and the developer, arguably, is driving that change. That tiny smartphone is a server. As again illustrated by Joyent with Project Manta, the big storage and network machines are now becoming part of the operating system. Compute and storage are coming together and in-memory databases make for split-second analytics.
Just.me Founder Keith Teare (who is also one of the original TechCrunch founders), said on The Gillmor Gang this week that the cloud is a constant, but it does not constantly do the same things. The change is evident when looking at how the cloud is used. The real shift is in how the cloud is consumed. Some of it is apps, some of it is devices while some data is pushed and some of it is pulled. The cloud is a data integrator (Message Bus) and a data store but not necessarily meant to be consumed just through a browser.
Andreessen Horowitz Partner Peter Levine said in an interview this past week that 15 to 20 years ago it was all Microsoft with the WinAPI. Every program and every API call was done to Windows. Now we see the entire disaggregation of the API. Companies now expect APIs. All of that has helped accelerate development.
It is the year of the developer, and that is evident with GitHub, which now has about 10,000 subscribers signing up every day, Levine said that for the past few years, the developer crescendo has lifted the cloud. The cloud players see that value and cater to developer interests so they will build more apps. More apps means the need for more cloud services. Smartphone makers and the carriers all have their own interests in fostering deeper developer ecosystems as it means more customers buying the time and the data to fill those devices. As Levine said, it all flows downstream.
And so take another look when the news hits about more big legacy players happily talking about the greatness of the cloud. Sure it’s awesome, but it would be meaningless if it were not for all those developers using it to make all the cool things we use everyday on those supercomputers we have ready in our pockets to connect us to the world.