Sunday, December 21, 2008

The cloud ... it's a triangle, damn it.

In 2006, I talked about the growth of utility computing and how distinct industries were being created. I used the ideas of componentisation to subdivide the computing stack into discrete layers.

In 2007, I formalised these three layers into hardware, framework and software. I used the following diagram at various conferences (from Web 2.0 to OSCON to FOWA) to describe utility computing as the transition of the computing stack from a product to a service based economy.

The shift of the computing stack

Then in early 2008, I added a bit more colour to my computing stack diagram to tart things up. But, alas the simple days of utility computing have been replaced by the cloud and its confusion of metaphors.

So, I was not that surprised to receive a very tongue in cheek email telling me that I was wrong about the cloud because it is a triangle (see diagram) .

How the cloud has changed ...

Apparently the source of this triangular insight is Michael Sheehan's post.

Oh no, did I got the colour, shape and names wrong? Who cares, it's not important unless of course the Appistry joke about Michael trademarking the triangle becomes true. In this case just use the rectangle (it's prior art and creative commons).

Alternatively, why not have a go and try experimenting with circles, dodecahedrons, the colour purple and paisley? Believe me you can't make any more of a mess than today's thought leaders.

As for my predictions for the future of cloud in 2009/10. Well, more and more analysts will start talking about the shift of IT from a product to a service based economy, there will be increasing user pressure for second sourcing options and growing demand for standards at various layers of the computing stack based upon operational open sourced code.

Don't ask me what name or shape it'll be, but as for the colour then judging by how much conflict there is in the cloud I'll take a stab at blood red.


Unknown said...

Hi Simon,

There's certainly a bit of "obviousness" about the cloud pyramid model that is both the source of its power (it just feels "right") and also the reason why I like to tease Michael about it.

I swear I was using it internally before either of you guys :-)


swardley said...

Hi Sam,

From my point of view, I don't mind what model gets used just as long as something sticks and no-one even contemplates owning the copyright :-)

As for who's first, who cares. As Eliot S. said "whenever you prove who was first, the harder you look you'll find someone else who was more first"

Back in 2006 it was SaaS / HaaS, then it became SaaS / SaaS platform / HaaS, then it became SaaS / FaaS / HaaS, then it became SaaS / PaaS / HaaS, then it became SaaS / PaaS / IaaS, then it became SaaS / Web 3.0 / IaaS before going back to SaaS / PaaS ....

In between this all, we've had countless DaaS, MaaS, XaaS, ?aaS, EaaS and other *aaS.

Also we've gone from utility to elastic to cloud to software+services back to cloud to WTF?

As Robert Lefkowitz said back at OSCON Jul'07 this "was going to lead to a whole lot of aaS". Well he was right.

As for when I first used it, publicly it was probably either Web 2.0 Expo in Apr'07 or OSCON Jul'07 and internally the concept of the different layers we'd be using since 2005.

However, before we get into a game of "who was first", just remember that this stack is an obvious combination of McArthy's and Herbert's ideas from the 60s and hundreds of other people have used it before.

Someone, somewhere talked about this stack in the 1990s or before, if we bother to look hard enough. What would be good though, is if we could finally start to settle down to something.

I don't happen to like the triangle as the importance of the future cloud battle is in the framework layer of the computing stack (variously called framework, software platform, PaaS, web 3.0 - ouch, and others ...).

However I don't really mind what shape it is as long as it stands still and we don't end up with a paisley bubble diagram.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,

Don't worry, I'm not going to trademark the Cloud Pyramid or "triangle" as you call it. I did laugh a bit with the teasing from Sam.

However, just to give you a little background. At the beginning of the year, people were struggling to define the "cloud" and diagram it. There were bubbles and mindmap like diagrams, confusing and complex. I just decided to make it extremely simple. You build up from the bottom (the foundation) using infrastructure and each layer has different characteristics. More control at the bottom, a wider breadth as well' the higher up, the more niche. But you probably already know this. The pyramid just worked the best way to explain it.
Cloud Computing is expanding and splintering/segmenting. I don't know how long the Pyramid will stand up to time.
I'm glad, though, you wanted to comment on it.

-Michael Sheehan
Technology Evangelist for GoGrid

swardley said...

Hi Michael,

The idea of the computing stack containing different layers with each built upon the lower order subsystems is not something new and the shift of this computing stack from a product to a service based economy has its origins in the 70s.

"Cloud" computing is just another manifestation of this transformation. What is unusual about "cloud" is that some relatively simple concepts have been twisted ad nauseum to create a confusing mess.

Whilst I applaud your efforts to bring simplicity back, the problem with the triangle form is that it implies the lower level levels have more breadth. However, here is the crunch - what does the breadth represent?

On a pure volume base, the pyramid is the right way but if you take if from the view of breadth representing complexity and variation, then it's upside down.

Whilst the lower orders of the computing stack will shift towards a small range of defined standards, the higher orders will continue to grow in terms of range and complexity.

To give an analogy, whilst most houses are built with a range of standards sub components from bricks to standard copper piping (10mm, 15mm etc) to standard electricity cabling, the range and complexity of housing is less standardised. Not every four bedroom house is the same.

Back at OSCON'07, I wanted to convey the ideas that had been expressed before but I did not wish to complicate the issue by assigning properties in terms of variability, complexity and volume. All that is fundamentally important to note is that a stack exists hence the rectangle.

That said, I'm quite happy with any shape just as long as it sticks and we don't end up with arguments over whether the triangle is upside down.

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