Will specialized cloud platforms emerge to offer services customized around the needs of a particular industry vertical? Or does too much specialization de-cloudify the whole endeavor? That was the focus of a session at GigaOm's Structure 09 conference in San Francisco, where panelists agreed that specialization will become more prominent as the cloud matures.
Up to a point. "There will be different kinds of clouds, for sure," said Yousef Khalidi, a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft working on the Windows Azure cloud platform. "At the same time, if you want a cloud, you want some scale and uniformity. Those are the value propositions of clouds. There's a slippery slope beyond which we're just providing custom networks."
So what types of specialized clouds make sense? Here are some of the areas identified by the panel:
Specialization by Industry Verticals: Savvis Chief Technical officer Bryan Doerr says there are a number of vertical ripe for customized cloud offerings. An example: financial services, where a low latency cloud could attract interest from firms conducting algorithmic program trading, which accounts for a growing percentage of total trading volume. Moderator Stacey Higginbotham from GigaOm also noted LegalCloud, which is hosted at the Rackspace Cloud and provides virtual data center services for law firms. Clouds could also be tailored to the compliance requirements of retailers (PCI) and health care providers (HIPAA).
Specialization by Structure: Michael Crandell of RightScale said some of the specialization is happening around structure and customer requirements. He cited two examples:
- "Siloed clouds": An enterprise gets a dedicated cloud in which its data will not commingle with data from other customers
- "Kiting": Dedicated servers which provide bursting capacity onto a cloud operated by the same infrastructure provider.
Specialization by Geography: "Local laws will have an effect on the differentiation of clouds," said Sun Microsystems Cloud Computing CTO Lew Tucker, referencing the many statutes requiring data to be stored within a nation's borders. "We do see a distribution of clouds based on geography."
Specialization by Infrastructure: Some cloud offerings may be optimized around a particular network architecture or protocol. "We are really looking for a unified view," noted Tucker. "But vendors of clouds may differ on network infrastructure." A number of clouds are built on a particular development tool or language. That raises the issue of lock-in, and a joke from Crandell: "How many of you are married?" he asked the audience of 700. "So you have some experience with lock-in."
Tucker said the segmentation of the cloud market between platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service offers opportunity for specialization. "Industry has a way of filling a market gap," said Tucker. "A lot of small providers may be leveraging large clouds to create specialized offerings for their clients."