Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cloud Expo: Some big ideas, big investments, and even a customer or two

Cloud computing events are happening fast and furiously now. SYS-CON’s Cloud Expo was last week in New York. Interop has a cloud computing track running in Las Vegas this week with a similar set of content to the recent Cloud Connect Santa Clara show. You really could spend all your time at cloud computing events these days.

I’ve been picking and choosing which events to sample to get a good feel for what’s going on in the market (a little bit of a science in and of itself). I won’t be at Interop but will be interested to hear how different the discussion is from what went on at Cloud Connect Santa Clara. However, I did hit the Cloud Expo show, and thought I’d share a few thoughts:

· I wasn’t shocked by the preponderance of vendor pitches. Why? First, the way SYS-CON is able to run the show is by offering speaking slots to its sponsors. The content logically follows suit. Think of it as a good way to sample what (some of) the players are saying and what they are focusing their investments on. If you know what you’re getting on your way into the door, you can evaluate the show for what it is, rather than for what you hope it could be. One note of caution, though: several big players (like Cisco) weren’t represented. Others -- like Oracle, shifting from cloud skepticism to full-on cloud cheerleader, and even smaller players -- took full advantage of that.

· Investment in cloud computing continues to grow, with signs of actual customers. These were two important data points that I took away from the event: the level of investment by the many players represented is strong. And, if you hold a cloud event in New York, some actual customers will show up. The general consensus seemed to be that the end users made up no more than 20% of the attendees based upon the number of folks raising hands in the various sessions. That’s certainly an uptick from the Santa Clara version of this same event. On the show floor, the 3Tera team thought it started slowly, but liked the customer traffic; the Nimsoft folks also had good things to say (they looked pretty busy from what I saw – a good sign).

· SYS-CON got a lot of flak for their fall Santa Clara show – and listened to some of it. I was one of the folks that had a pretty negative view of the previous conference. It may just be that the market is maturing, but I was pleasantly surprised that Jeremy Geelan and crew helped pushed the conversations in New York forward, as opposed to getting stuck on the “So how do you define cloud computing?” question repeatedly. That’s good to see. The next real improvement, though, will come when SYS-CON can convince the speakers to focus more on customer issues and less on sales pitches (see first bullet). There were certainly a few that did that, but not nearly enough. Hence, more grumbling about sales pitches.

· Big visions, modest means. One of telltale signs that we’ve got an interesting market developing – and aggressive innovation underway – around cloud computing is the healthy number of start-ups. One of those start-ups, Abiquo, decided to use a bit of its VC money to fund a stealth-until-the-day-of-the-show platinum sponsorship, giving them a big stage for their equally big vision. Their CEO painted a pretty interesting description of a “resource cloud” and a “top-down,” “high-level view of the future of cloud management.” They also talked about being focused on tactics for helping customers. Having been with vision-heavy Cassatt, I’m probably hypersensitive to the challenges I expect Abiquo to have trying to be simultaneously strategic & tactical (oh, and both open source & commercial, too). You can like their story, but remain skeptical that they can pull it off. Same with interesting ideas from folks like AppZero and CloudSwitch. But this wouldn’t be Silicon Valley if you didn’t try, right? Success doesn’t necessarily mean a huge customer base and an IPO anymore, after all.

· When your data center gets hung up in customs… If you thought Abiquo’s sponsorship was a last-minute thing, you should have seen Microsoft trying to get their containerized data center demo onto the show floor – and then get it working. Maybe it was intended to show off Tradeshow Booth as a Service (on-demand, you see) to add to the Microsoft as a Service mantra they were talking about. It’s actually pretty impressive: no one else but Microsoft gets to create a *aaS acronym from their own name and not get major grief. Something for us all to aspire to, I guess.

· A volcano puts the spotlight on the impact of Europe on the cloud computing market. The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the resulting disruption of air travel across Europe made it very hard for many of the presenters scheduled for Cloud Expo to make it across the Atlantic to speak. But it also made another point: there are a bunch of European companies and personalities playing key roles in the cloud market. (See my earlier "scientists v. cowboys" post on cloud computing in Europe for some thoughts on this.) SYS-CON had pre-conference sessions with missing European presenters do some presentations using Skype. Others, like Mark Rivington from Nimsoft, sent U.S.-based replacements. Only a handful, however, showed true commitment: the aforementioned Abiquo folks were some of those. As I heard it, CEO Pete Malcom’s trip to New York started with a ferry from London to France and involved a VERY long drive to Madrid, before finally finding a plane able to head to the States. “I asked how he planned to get back,” noted Carl Brooks of SearchCloudComputing on Twitter. “He just laughed.” Diego Parrilla (known as @nubeblog on Twitter, specializing in Spanish-language cloud tweets) figures their true-to-life travel saga is worthy of a book. Describing the volcanic cloud of ash causing everyone’s troubles, he tied it to one of the hot topics of the day: “Now that was really cloud vendor lock-in!”

· The benefits of passion and a singular vision about cloud computing. I talked about the excitement that some of the start-ups showed for their ideas. That same excitement was obvious from Amazon, but for different reasons. I’ve heard folks discuss Amazon’s culture of secrecy from George Reese (@georgereese, CTO of enStratus) and others, but that didn’t come through. Instead I heard a very singular focus and world view. This was the first time I’d heard Steve Riley (@steveriley) of Amazon and he didn’t actually dismiss private clouds, but at the Cloud Camp session did a pretty good job of making it obvious he didn’t see a lot of use for them when there are public cloud alternatives (like, say, theirs). But the way I figure it, when your business plan is very precise, you can afford to be very passionate. And he is. And entertaining. Who else finishes up his of discussion of why private clouds aren’t really clouds by saying, “I can put a goat on my front lawn, but that doesn’t make it a lawnmower”?

· And, yes, the private cloud debate goes on… The Cloud Club Unpanel was debating that topic (including Steve Riley, as just mentioned), but most of the rest of the presentations took the private cloud as a given and moved on. As they should, at this point.

· For CA, a place for the new team begin to come together. For us, this event was also a good opportunity to bring the newest members of the CA Cloud Business Line team together in one place. The recent acquisitions of 3Tera and Nimsoft were the ones on display, and it was an excellent opportunity to get to know each other, talk about our different areas of focus and expertise, and make connections that are always best made face-to-face. We’ll be talking more about our latest and greatest (cloud and otherwise) at CA World in a few weeks, but there are obviously some great ways to build on the existing efforts of 3Tera and Nimsoft under the CA umbrella, especially for the benefit of MSPs and other cloud service providers. Stay tuned.

So, all in all, a useful event. Perfect? No.
I was glad to connect with a more East Coast-focused set of folks working on cloud computing. One of those people, Scott Sanchez at Unisys, did a write-up of his own that’s also worth a read.
At the very least, it was a good look around the industry as I help our various teams prepare for the big happenings at CA World. Hope to see you there.

1 comment:

James Urquhart said...

RE: Riley's “I can put a goat on my front lawn, but that doesn’t make it a lawnmower" comment:

I can drop some seed in my local public park, but that doesn't make it my grass, either. ;-)