Cloud Computing in 2014

As 2013 came to a close, I put the wraps on my latest book (Professional Visual Studio 2013). While I’m not quite *done* done, all that’s left is to review the galleys of the chapter as they come back from the editor. Work, yes. But not nearly as demanding as everything that has gone before.

As well, since I’ve now published four books in the last 25 months, I’m a little burned out on writing books. I’m sure that I’ll get involved in another project at some point in the future, but for at least the next 6 months, I’m saying ‘no’ to any offer that that involves writing to a deadline.

Yet, the need to write still burns strongly in me. I really can’t *not* write. So what that means is that my blogging will inevitably increase. Be warned.

To start the new year, I thought I’d get into an area that I’m moderately familiar with: Cloud Computing. And for this particular blog, it being the start of the year and all, a prediction column seemed most appropriate. So here we go with 5 Trends in Cloud Computing for 2014

Using the Cloud to Innovate

One of the unintended consequences of the cloud is that it sits at the intersection of the three big current technology movements: mobile, social and big data.

  • Mobile is the biggest trend so far this century and is becoming as significant as the Internet itself did 20 years ago. The commoditization of the service is well underway and smartphones need to be considered in almost every technology project.
  • Social is not at the leading edge of mind share any more. And definitely not to the same level it was a few years ago. It it quickly becoming a given that social, of some form or another, needs to be a part of every new app.
  • Big Data is the newest of these three trends. Not that it hasn’t been around for a while. But the tools are now available for smaller companies to be able to more easily capture and analyze large volumes of data that previously would have simply been ignored.

What do these three trends have in common? They all use (or can use) the cloud as the delivery mechanism for their services. Most companies wouldn’t think of developing a turnkey big data environment. Instead, they would use a Hadoop instance running in Azure (or AWS or pick your favorite hosting environment). And why build an infrastructure to support mobile apps until you really need to roll your own. Instead, use the REST-based API available through Windows Azure Mobile Services. It has become very easy to use the cloud-available services as the jumping off point for your innovation across all three of these dimensions. And by allowing innovators to focus more on their creations and less on the underlying infrastructure, the pace and quality of the innovations will only increase.

Hybrid-ization of the Cloud

Much as some might want (and most don’t), you cannot move every piece of your infrastructure to the cloud. Inevitably, there is some piece of hardware that needs to be running locally in order to deliver value. But more importantly, why would you want to rip out and migrate functionality that already works if such a move provides little or no practical benefits. Instead, the focus of your IT group should be on delivering new value using cloud functionality, transitioning older functions to the cloud only on an as-needed basis.

What this does mean is that most companies are going to need to run a hybrid cloud environment. Some functions will stay on-premise. Others will move to the cloud. It will be up to IT to make this work seamlessly. There are already a number of features available through Azure AD to assist with authentication and authorization. But as you go through the various components of your network, there will be many opportunities to add to the hybrid portion of your infrastructure. And you should take them. The technology has gotten to the point that *most* issues related to creating an hybrid infrastructure have been addressed. Take advantage of this to make the most of the interplay between the two environments.

Transition from Capitalization to Expenses

For most people, the idea of using the cloud in their business environment is driven by the speed with which technology can be deployed. Instead of needing to wade through a budget approval process for a new blade server, followed by weeks of waiting for delivery, you can spin up the equivalent functionality in a matter of minutes.

But while that capability is indeed quite awesome, for business people it’s not really the big win. Instead, it’s the ability to move the cost associated with infrastructure from the balance sheet to the income statement. At the same time as this (generally) beneficial move, the need to over-purchase capacity is removed. Cloud computing allows you to add capacity on an as-needed basis. While it’s not quite like turning on a light switch, it’s definitely less onerous than a multi-week purchase/install/deploy cycle that is standard with physical hardware. One can question whether the cost of ‘renting’ space in the cloud is more or less expensive that the physical counterpart, but the difference in how the costs are accounted for make more of a difference than you think.

So how does this impact you in 2014? More and more, you will need to be aware of the costing models that are being used by your cloud computer provider. While the costs have not yet become as complicated as, say, the labyrinth of Microsoft software licensing, they are getting close. Keep a close eye on how the various providers are charging you and what you are paying for, so that as you move to a cloud environment, you can make the most appropriate choices.

Network Amplification

In order to be successful, your application needs to leverage connections between a wide variety of participants: users, partners, suppliers, employees. This is the ‘network’ for your organization. And, by extension, the applications that are used within your organization.

If you want to maximize the interconnectedness of this network, as well as allowing the participants to take full advantage of your application, you need to provide two fundamental functions: a robust and useable API and the ability to scale that API as needed.

In most cases, a REST-based API is the way to go. And you will see in the coming 12 months an increased awareness of what makes a REST API ‘good’. This is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Or, possibly, as it should be. While some functionality is easy to design and implement, others are not. And knowing the difference between the two is either trial and error or you find someone who has already been through the process.

As for scalability, a properly designed API combined with cloud deployment can come close to giving you that for free. But note the critical condition ‘properly designed’. When it comes to API functionality, it is almost entirely about the up-front design. So spend the necessary effort to make sure that it works as you need it to. Or, more importantly, as the clients of your API need it to.

Predictive Technology

For the longest time, real-time was the goal. Wouldn’t it be nice to see what the user is doing on your Web site at the moment they are doing it. Well, that time is now in the past. If you’re trying to stay ahead of the curve, you need to look ahead to the user’s next actions.

This is not the same as Big Data, although Big Data helps. It’s the ability to take the information (not just the data) extracted from Big Data and use it to modify your business processes. That process could be as simple as changing the data that appears on the screen to modifying the workflow in your production line. But you’ll start to see tools aimed at helping you understand and take advantage of ‘future’ knowledge start to arrive shortly.

So there you are. Five trends that are going to define cloud computing over the next 12 months, ranging from well on the way to slightly more speculative. But all of them are (or should be) applicable to your company. And the future of how you create and deploy applications.