How mobile and the IoT will save cloud computing

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There’s a chicken-and-egg situation in cloud computing today. Cloud is growing but companies aren’t investing enough to take full advantage of it. Despite years of technological development, vast communities supporting key cloud software at the development and deployment levels, and endless marketing and thought leadership campaigns, cloud consumes only about one-third of enterprise IT budgets. So which has to come first for cloud to keep growing: more innovation or more investment?

Traditionally in enterprise IT, most of an IT budget goes to operations, with a small percentage left for innovation. Cloud computing is routinely touted as innovative, so perhaps we can infer that many companies limit cloud investment to the smaller innovation portion of their IT budget.

Following this logic, IT managers who subscribe to the idea of bimodal computing tend to “throw in the towel,” giving up on doing anything cloudy with their existing operations and focusing cloud activities on new, data-driven capabilities. One disturbing aspect of bimodal theory is the idea that traditional, non-cloud IT is stable, with the implication that cloud-driven IT is not. Ouch.

Will cloud be relegated to a minor role in enterprise IT? Has it already reached its maximum potential—exciting for headline-grabbing innovation, but a victim of passive aggressive and outright aggressive pushback from mainstream enterprise IT management?

Mobile and the IoT to the rescue

I remain optimistic about the growth of cloud, and here’s why: two great disruptors, mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT), are going to change things dramatically—and soon.

Mobile data has been on a hockey stick growth curve since the first Apple iPhone. Mobile data will exceed 52 million terabytes this year, according to Gartner. That’s around 5 percent of a data-driven enterprise world that generates more than a zettabyte (1,000 exabytes) per year. But mobile growth is outpacing non-mobile growth—and is expected to more than triple by 2018.

Furthermore, mobile data flows are less predictable than non-mobile flows, as they are subject to the whims of millions of individuals doing whatever strikes their fancy on their little lifelines to the World Wide Web. Mobile data flows are also produced by a variety of phones and tablets that have made the letters “BYOD” (bring your own device) translate into anarchy for IT management.

The volatility and complexity of mobile data makes this aspect of enterprise IT a perfect candidate for cloud computing. Whether trying to institute cloud internally or working with a third party, enterprise IT can take advantage of cloud’s horizontal scalability and flexibility—and more-or-less granular cost structure—to handle these growing mobile demands. Here’s an example from WebSphere on Cloud.

It adds up

The IoT data generation machine—another trend that is revolutionizing IT—reminds me of the venerable business-case distinction between automobiles and chewing gum. Both Henry Ford and Phil Wrigley made fortunes in business early in the 20th century. Henry made his by selling one car every few years to as many families as he could. Phil made his by selling numerous sticks of chewing gum each day to as many people as he could.

For the past 50 years traditional enterprise IT data flows have been based on the car sale concept, but in the IoT era they’ll be more like selling gum. Imagine a smart, urban electrical grid with hundreds (maybe thousands) of sensors from millions of homes and businesses, each generating little 10KB signals every few seconds. As an example, a single urban grid with a million homes, each with one thousand sensors transmitting 10KB signals twice a minute equals 20 terabytes a minute, 28.8 petabytes a day, or 10.5 exabytes per year.

So how can a single entity address that quantity of data with dexterity, especially if the inevitable (and unique) data spikes for each grid are taken into consideration? Once again, the flexibility and cost-accounting of cloud computing will come to the rescue.

For the enterprises that don’t follow my logic, if cloud innovation is the chicken, the chickens will come home to roost and the eggs will be on their faces.

Executive Director, Tau Institute

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