HANOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 05:  A visitor tries out a tablet computer next to a cloud computing and technology symbol at the Deutsche Telekom stand at the 2013 CeBIT technology trade fair on March 5, 2013 in Hanover, Germany. CeBIT will be open March 5-9.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Clouds Over Seattle? Amazon and Microsoft Don’t Own the Sky

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Fueled by hiccups from two oversized players, recent reports of the cloud’s death have been greatly exaggerated. To the degree tech pundits have been checking its pulse, the cloud is presumed to hover in a fixed point somewhere near the Space Needle. As the new year progresses, it’s become abundantly clear that Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon Web Services are not the cloud. The cloud exists precisely for those small and mid-size businesses that lack a tech army. Microsoft and Amazon simply aren’t set up to focus on niche segments without a Fortune-style customer in the mix. They thrive on a “high volume, low transaction cost” model, which was never intended to accommodate small and mid-size businesses.

The cloud, however, is nothing if not radically dispersed — it’s a vast ecosystem consisting of thousands and thousands of vendors with offerings tailor-made for verticals and specific markets. By that measure, Amazon and Microsoft are but two players within a very large landscape, which is why you won’t find many small businesses hanging out with Azure or AWS. The cloud wasn’t even invented in Seattle. That honor goes to VMware (in Silicon Valley) and RedHat (in Raleigh, N.C.).

That said, Amazon and Microsoft will help contribute to a new normal in the cloud market this year by dint of their negative example. Popular discontent with the cloud may well increase as other invariably smaller vendors try to emulate the low-touch Amazon/Microsoft model. For vendors serving SMBs, that’s a fool’s errand.

Cloud providers who are delivering for small and midsize business have long since validated the efficacy of the cloud. These providers supply the fuel to keep cloud computing alive and kicking – vigorously. There’s plenty of innovating going on in the application containerization space, so expect any number of emerging, VC-driven cloud companies to make their mark this coming year. It’s a safe bet that most of these new players won’t need to be anywhere near Starbucks headquarters.

So let’s maintain that the cloud really is the rightful province of small and mid-size businesses, and that a phalanx of savvy providers exists to understand and serve them fully. What kind of cloud are SMBs seeking – and what do they deserve?

It’s not a trick question. The cloud-as-hype-machine exists, after all, to confuse the less tech savvy and induce them to go with the aforementioned Big Brands. (One note here: in an SMB world, being “less tech savvy” is not a bad thing – it’s a reality in a fiercely competitive environment, where small and mid-size businesses need to focus limited resources on core activities… the things that make them money.)

My guess is that, to answer the question of what kind of cloud SMBs are seeking, the Big Brands would revert to jargon and say something like, “hybrid cloud.” Users might nod in response, since everyone’s certainly heard the term.

But here’s the thing: there’s absolutely nothing special about hybrid cloud. The terminology is misleading and has long since ceased to describe anything specific. Organizations have been shifting workload to the Internet virtually forever, no pun intended. Public compute space and private compute space were coexisting when Zuckerberg was watching Sesame Street. Compute on-premises, store off-premises – we’ve all been there and done that.

Somewhere along the way, as the cloud expanded beyond the known universe, something (e.g., the true concept of hybrid cloud) got lost in translation. Today, some of your workload is under your control and some outside of your control – that’s just painfully obvious. From that perspective, the hybrid cloud is ubiquitous, even pervasive, right now. The majority of organizations rely on servers and computers, and some data resides on various desktops; some is stored with Apple or Dropbox or Microsoft, and some organizations have embraced SaaS and virtualization.

Now, here’s where the jargon becomes perilously close to gibberish. Strictly speaking, very few organizations are actually building virtual environments on their own – even within the Fortune 500. Creating that piece is exceedingly hard to do. So, no one is doing hybrid by the book – and loosely speaking, everyone is doing it. Virtualization has taken off; within that world, users are renting space rather than buying virtual equipment themselves – and what they’re getting in return is, yes, the hybrid cloud. Bottom line: you can’t not be in the cloud these days. Slapping a term like “hybrid IT” is just a faddish way to package a long-established status quo.

The right question isn’t, “Should I go on or off premises? Should I opt for the hybrid cloud, the public cloud, or a private cloud?” The smart question, the question of “what cloud do SMBs deserve,” is wrapped up in this: “what’s strategically best for my organization?” When you frame the query in that manner, you can determine where to place your compute power, and you begin to gain control over the dynamic. Want to reduce costs? Increase efficiencies? Achieve some other objective?

First, decide what your metrics are and how they serve the business – then select the technology. Go back to basics. Pick the tool that works.

The folks from Seattle won’t know what to say.

About the Author

adamsternthumbAdam Stern, founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual, is an entrepreneur who saw the value of virtualization and cloud computing some six years ago. Stern’s company helps businesses move from obsolete hardware investments to an IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] cloud platform, providing them the flexibility and scalability to transition select data operations from in-house to the cloud.

Stern founded Infinitely Virtual in 2007, to provide virtual dedicated server solutions to growing enterprises, offering what was essentially a cloud computing platform before the term existed Infinitely Virtual is a subsidiary of Santa Monica-based Altay Corporation, which Stern founded in 2003 to provide Windows, VMware and other service solutions to small and medium-size businesses.

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