Google App Engine might be yet another kind of specialized cloud. While App Engine, like Amazon EC2, can be used for generic infrastructure as a service, it also can be seen as something of a specialized cloud for running apps that rely on data from Google's search or location services, which the company reveals through APIs.
Google's new prediction API, for example, combines features of location awareness with buyer preferences. An application using the API could let a person give the names of favorite restaurants, then collect data on the restaurants online and use the data as a baseline. When that person enters the name of a new restaurant in the app, it goes through the API to use the baseline data to find characteristics at the restaurant that match the user's preferences. It's a way of leveraging Google's search infrastructure that might be embraced by the tourism, restaurant, or retail industries.
Another example is the Google "prospective search" API. An application using it would ask a user about queries the person is interested in answering, build an index of them, then tell the prospective search API to examine incoming documents and check to see if they have information relevant to the query. It's like search in reverse, and could be used by industries where customer service is vital, such as automatically looking for dissatisfied customers in user comments on the Web. Or, it might be of use to a crisis management team that needs to know all information coming into a company relevant to a particular problem.
Vendors are in the early stages of developing specialized clouds. One of the top requests businesses have for App Engine is that Google bring it out of preview mode and support it as a full- fledged product. That will happen "later this year," says Greg D'Alesandre, senior product manager for Google App Engine. The company has dropped plans for a business-oriented version, called App Engine for Business, and instead is concentrating on having the core product meet business needs.
SITA, an IT services firm specializing in the airline industry, earlier this year announced it would develop a cloud platform for the airline industry, promising everything from infrastructure and platform services to software and desktops as a service, tailored to the industry's needs. But what we haven't seen, and aren't likely to see thrive, is a cooperative industry cloud platform--something like pharma companies or banks building or sharing a data center resources in a partnership to provide shared, online computing resources.
Why not? It's true that a strong regulatory climate gives a group of industry players a well defined arena in which they must operate, and that in turn sets potential terms for pooled services to emerge. But someone has to pay for the initial investment, supervise the cloud's development, and accept the risks of working in an emerging technology. NYSE, with its clear business case for reaching new customers, was in an unusually strong position to make such an investment.
Asked what other companies may offer a cloud platform for capital markets, Barnes ticks off the advantages NYSE Technologies had heading into the effort: "You need to run hard-core IT trading operations. You need data centers. You need interesting applications, interesting content, and a captive audience." Drop the "trading" piece from hard-core IT operations, and Barnes has offered a short list of what an entity might need for an industry cloud. That last requirement, the captive audience, could be hard to duplicate in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, the airline industry, utilities or most any other regulated industry.
NYSE's Barnes says a number of IT services companies could build a cloud tailored to a particular industry, but he contends, "They don't understand the unique attributes of our industry." It's true that business knowledge has to be intimately meshed with the technical knowledge, and that an architect with a deep understanding of the industry needs to design the vertical industry cloud.
Don't count out large IT service providers, if a critical mass of clients urge them to provide clouds tailored to an industry or technical need. How much critical mass that would require is the big question. More specialized industry clouds are likely to emerge, but they must command some key pivot point in their industry to thrive. In most industries, few such points exist.