A major shift in IT business models will emerge from the next incarnation of Cloud Computing- Cloud 2.0.
The Cloud is a metaphor for shared infrastructure, software and data within the web. The original cloud concept emerged in the sixties, not long after the commercial genesis of computing, with the advent of the Service Bureau. This allowed smaller companies to share in the benefits of the golden computer age by running their applications on large service provider mainframes. Access was provided by punched card readers and later by remote computer terminals with printer output.
Minis and desktop personal computers then dominated during the seventies and eighties and the original service bureau industry faded away. In the nineties the Internet and Web evolved, allowing online remote services to return; this time based on the client-server model linked to in-house PCs.
Cloud computing is the next evolutionary step in shared computer processing, using virtualised information services delivered on demand over the Internet, circumscribed with SLAs and user–based pricing. The major advantages as in the sixties, are lower costs and fewer technical maintenance and upgrade problems. As with the original service bureaus, the computing infrastructure and much of the application software is based on reliable services delivered via remote data centers; this time accessible via a web browser.
In addition the Cloud is evolving to deliver personalised intelligent and mobile applications; for example streaming SaaS- Software as a Service using virtual assistants to organise data-mined information. AI empowered mobile applications might include sharing time-critical market information, planning meetings, responding to voice commands or analysing traffic patterns to determine the speediest or most fuel-efficient route for an individual.
Most of the major service and software providers such as IBM, EDS, Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft and e-Bay have now established significant and expanding cloud services, providing access to their proprietary databases through Web APIs. Cloud service categories now cover a large range of standard applications including-
Social – social networks, video and photo sites, virtual worlds, and multi player gaming
Business–office and workflow, customer relationship and sales, workforce, supply chain, financial and booking applications
Utilities- skype, paypal, peer-to-peer networking
Plus numerous statistical, user-generated, media, science, geographic and cultural services
But the next evolutionary phase of the Cloud will offer much more- in particular data linking. This will promote the sharing of datasets across diverse domains and between business, research and group partners, bringing the full semantic power of the Web into play and changing the face of business forever.
Different APIs rely on different ID and access mechanisms as well as data in specific formats. Therefore APIs have tended to slice the web into separate sources and silos, restricting its full potential.
Tim Berniers Lee’s recent publication of Linked Data Principles for connecting structured data on the web, provides a future blueprint for connecting information from different sources into a single global data repository; accessible by generic data browsers and standard database and query languages.
This not only allows web documents to be identified, but also real world entities using the RDF- Resource Description Framework schema and Web Ontology language- defining mappings between related domains. The web of linked data will therefore immeasurably expand the classic document web, creating a global data network capable of spanning and weaving multiple data sources.
An increasing number of data providers have now begun to implement these Linked Data principles, leading to the creation of an open global data space containing billions of links and coordinated by the World Wide Web Consortium.
The trendlines are now becoming clear. The web is advancing to a multi-dimensional medium for discovering, publishing and linking seamlessly documents and data, leveraging semantic intelligence and mobile capabilities.
Individual supplier services will obviously continue to build, but enterprises will increasingly access common data clouds as well as most utility services, which will in the longer term become open source or common global property.
Cloud spaces will continue to blend and split, fragmenting and reforming in unlimited combinations and permutations. They will share data as media organisations already do amongst themselves and with countless news aggregators such as Google. The divide lines between public and private ownership of application IP will also become fuzzy, with most applications and algorithms over time converting to generic forms- as many critical medical drugs now have.
Software and system suppliers will need to differentiate their products increasingly as focussed value-added services, targeted to specific enterprises and industries as IBM and others are currently doing in forging partnerships for their new customised Smart Planet infrastructure business models.
Service applications will therefore be differentiated primarily by the level of value they contribute to the enterprise. Enterprises in turn will become more strategically porous, linking their core processes and management decisions more organically with their partner service providers and the chameleon Cloud 2.0.