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Cloud computing is a gorilla game

Cloud computing 101: the biggest advantage of the cloud computing model is “agility”.  We can do things that were simply not possible before.  A couple of examples of our day to day customer scenarios to proof the point.

Facial recognition to flag “smartcard fraud”

A customer is having hundreds of employees entering the workplace with a smartcard through a tourniquet system. There is a suspicion that something is going on.  They suspect smartcards are being used by another person than the rightful owner.  Leaving the details out, it is sensitive.  Using facial recognition and a relatively cheap camera solution, tapping into the cognitive services of Azure, we worked out a solution in a couple of days.  Every smartcard has photos associated with it in the backend.  Privacy and GDPR wise things were arranged.  We did not want to use the facial recognition for “real time security purposes”.  All we had to do was flag “suspicious cases”.  Which then allowed the company to do targeted investigation and fix the problem.

What database service would work best for my solution?

Let us take Amazon as an example this time.  Amazon Aurora, Amazon RDS, Amazon Redshift, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon DocumentDB, Amazon Neptune, Amazon QLDB, …  Just a snapshot of database services available on AWS, all with their specific use cases linked to it.  What would work best for my scenario?  And define “best” …  A cloud architect will help you make a first selection.  A well-documented business case is the first step.  But in a lot of cases, the best approach is to setup a proof of concept with a real sample dataset.  You do not need to order hardware and do a couple of weeks of installations.  You can spin-up a test environment, do your tests until you know what you need to know. 

Two totally different scenarios, one business use case, one more technical use case.  This type of agility was not possible before cloud computing.  Not without much longer timelines and much bigger financial investments.

The paradox of cloud computing

As agile the use of cloud computing for its customers is, as rigid is the cloud world itself.  In its origin, cloud computing is a brick and mortar business.  Cloud computing is about a services model, where customers take those services to build their own applications.  Amazon was the first on this road, with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud launched in August 2006.  Surprisingly, it took years for anybody else to respond.  And by that time, it really had become a “gorilla game”.  Who has the money to invest in datacenter around the world and connect them with highly expensive networks?  For marketing reasons, a lot of companies claim to have “a cloud solution”.  But do they really?  A lot of those run on one of the gorilla public cloud vendors: AWS, Microsoft or Google.  Or some claim to have “their own cloud”, which in reality is a datacenter repackaged by marketeers.

In 1999, Geoffrey Moore wrote a book for investors in high-tech stock to find those companies that dominate a certain high-tech market.  His theory is that at some point in a technology market, a small number of companies will set the standard.  And they will be the “gorilla in the jungle” that oversees a certain territory. 

While the theory of Moore dates from well before the cloud era, it is interesting to look at the current cloud world through this gorilla game glasses.  AWS was the first.  In 2016, AWS was bigger on its own than the 3 next competitors together!  That is only 4 years ago.  Making a statement on where we are today is much more complex than it seems at first sight.  It all comes down to “what is cloud”?  IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, BPaaS or the new kid on the block DaaS?  Try to find some numbers on “cloud market share”.  You will soon discover it all very much depends on how you look at it.

But no matter how you look at it, you will also soon conclude the gorilla game materialised much faster than before during previous significant technology shifts.  In less than 5 years, AWS, Microsoft and Google became the gorillas in the game.  The entry cost into this market is very high.  And is time consuming.  There is a consensus that the number 4 in the market and the first challenger is Alibaba.  Funded by Chinese (government) money.

It is remarkable how a technology that is offering such a level of agility at its core is probably one of the more challenging domains for newcomers to enter.  Because at the foundation of it, it is a brick and mortar business.

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