Posted by: Greg Ness | June 25, 2008

Cloud Computing Meme Gathering Steam

Like The Wisdom of Clouds author James Urquhart I was floored by the cloud computing meme explosion.  What was an initial comment about Who will Ride the Clouds was picked up by tech visionary Nicholas Carr Monday, in addition to several new media outlets.


While I’ve been living in networking and security technology the last ten-plus years, the implications of cloud computing took me back to an econ history course I took in grad school taught by Walt Rostow.  Walt authored several economic history textbooks, including a tome from the sixties called The Stages of Economic Growth, which was subtitled “a Non-Communist Manifesto”.


Walt’s wonderful course was about how fluctuating terms of trade over hundreds of years between raw material and finished goods economies were a backdrop to various stages of economic growth and development experienced by nations around the world.  Cultural factors, geographical conditions and markets shifted wealth across hundreds of years and thousands of miles as demands and trade routes shifted, technologies and tastes evolved and new raw material sources were discovered or depleted.


For his time Walt was highly controversial in many circles, not just because of his belief in the triumph of capitalism (especially in the sixties) but also because of his unwavering support for the war in Vietnam.  Yet I found his economic history perspective refreshing, especially before the outright collapse of communism.


Because of Walt’s scholarship I saw cloud computing within an even larger context than its impact on network and security equipment/software.  As cloud computing decouples software, services and servers from physical hardware it poses an incredible impact on who benefits from IT.  It promises to shift IT operations careers from highly congested and expensive real estate markets to remote farming communities in areas with cheap power.


We’re already witnessing shifts in how technology firms operate, including the rise of teleworking and the movement of larger firms with mature technologies to lower cost (especially real estate and tax) locations.  When you add virtualized cloud IT to the mix you add an even more powerful dynamic that is already moving IT operations to remote areas like Quincy, WA which offer cheap electricity and cheap real estate, not to mention less congestion.


As massive server farms are built, small farming towns become the factories of tomorrow.  The Detroit-styled, urban bureaucracies and wealth transfer engines (that relied upon proximity to unprecedented wealth creation to insulate residents from the ongoing dance between productivity and resources) start crumbling at a faster pace. 




IT operations flight would disproportionately hit communities that have depended upon unprecedented gains in tax revenues driven by their proximity to powerhouse technology company headquarters and branch offices; and would deliver the equivalent of a route change for the information superhighway.  Remember the ghost towns created by dried up mines or shifts in railroad routes?


Similarly, large technology companies that fight the tide by keeping IT operations in higher cost metro areas pay disproportionately for the same services as their competitors.  The Googles, Microsofts and Amazons enjoy competitive advantages by spreading the wealth into communities that were once isolated from the industrial and computer age, where many residents don’t have an email address.


The age of motorized transportation drove incredible resources to the automobile and the petroleum industry, enriching towns and even deserts with manufacturing or processing plants and oil facilities.  The information technology age may similarly empower a new generation of communities, companies and electricity producers. 


If cloud computing and virtualization launch the age of strategic electricity, power plants could become as important to economic growth as universities and entrepreneurs.  New investments in new energy technologies could finally give us the impetus to break our dependence upon fossil fuels.


There are still technology barriers to the cloud computing vision, including virtualization security, application management and delivery, I/O processing and change management, to name a few.  New companies have already emerged to tackle these challenges and as their new approaches get adopted new potentials are unleashed.  I’ll be talking about them here at Archimedius in coming months.  I just had to tee them up within the larger context as a tribute to Walt Rostow, a great professor and scholar.


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