One data point to look at is projected new uses of the different types of cloud computing. We see fewer new adopters of infrastructure as a service over the next 12 months. However, new users of platform as a service, software as a service, and the cloud computing services provided by virtualization vendors all show continued high or increasing percentages.
We asked 240 IT pros whose companies are using or planning to use cloud which services they're most likely to begin using within the next 12 months. Infrastructure as a service was cited by only 26%, compared to 38% last year.
In contrast, 48% say they will use virtualization technology providers for cloud computing over the next 12 months, up 8% over last year, reflecting I believe a heightened interest in the "private cloud" inside the enterprise. In addition, 42% cite platform providers (such as Salesforce.com's Force.com platform, Engine Yard's Ruby platform, or IBM's SmartCloud), the same percentage as last year, reflecting a wish to do more application development in the cloud. Thirty-six percent cite software as a service providers (those could include Saleforce, SugarCRM, Intuit, and NetSuite), which is up 5 percentage points. (Our cloud research will be published in full this month.)
Among existing cloud users in the survey, 57% already use SaaS, 56% use virtualization tech providers, 42% use platforms, and 27% use infrastructure.
The results of the new survey to me reflect an appetite for the more-advanced cloud services now available. IT is going to the cloud not only for plain-vanilla infrastructure, such as paying for pay-per-use online servers or storage. On the contrary, once solid infrastructure is established, its real value shows up when services are layered on top of it.
The survey doesn't show abandonment of infrastructure as a service so much as a greater interest in the higher-level services that can be added to it. The survey asked what "new" provider will be used over the next 12 months. Some respondents are already using Amazon, Terremark, Rackspace, GoGrid, or other infrastructure as a service. So these figures indicate that "new" cloud uses will focus on the higher level services, wherever they might be found.
[ Small businesses can benefit from the cloud, too. See 10 Important Cloud Apps For SMBs. ]
That's not necessarily bad news for the leading cloud infrastructure service provider, Amazon Web Services. Smaller providers of cloud development platforms--such as PHPcloud provider Zend Technologies and the Ruby application hosts Engine Yard and Heroku--have flocked to Amazon as the hosting mechanism for their services. The platforms offer development tools and frameworks. Once the developer produces an application, he can use the platform's underlying messaging system and connections to database servers, Web servers, and an application server.
The trend was cited by Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services, earlier this year when he said in an interview at Cloud Connect, "Let a thousand platforms bloom." Red Hat's OpenShift development platform is based on Amazon. VMware's Cloud Foundry, which offers the Spring Framework for Java developers, was established in Amazon's cloud, then moved into a VMware data center last year.
Not all the enhanced services that are capturing future cloud users' interest lie outside the data center. Interest in private cloud operations that can work in conjunction with the public cloud grew markedly in 2011. Microsoft and VMware in particular have turned their attention to enabling the higher-level services included in the build out of private cloud environments--making use of their virtualization products as a set of core cloud software that runs inside a companies' own data center. That software includes VMware's vSphere 5 and Microsoft's System Center. With these higher-level services, the emphasis is on managing a company's virtualized data center environment to allow functions such as end-user self-service; policy-driven operations, such as finding new storage space when a disk array fills up; and user chargeback based on hours of use.
Virtualization vendors already are at the center of modern data centers, because their software creates the virtualized portion of the data center. By expanding capabilities into virtualization management, they can convert virtualized hosts into a pooled resource that includes storage and networking and the construction of server templates for end users to activate.
The virtualization vendors have enabled the creation of virtual machines, assigning them CPU, storage, memory, and network bandwidth, then allowing them to be moved around to different hosts throughout the day. "Every year the expectation for embedded management capability is a line that moves higher," says Ramin Sayar, VMware's vice president of products. If you were able to create a well-designed virtual machine that users could deploy this year, the expectation next year will be to generate the same VM with an added layer of automation. At some point, I expect one of the virtualization vendors will offer a system that creates a recoverable duplicate at an alternative site every time a new VM is generated. That is, every application has automated disaster recovery, a condition that is far from true today. So far, no one is volunteering to include this as an option in their software.
To create this more highly automated private cloud requires more and more combined intelligence to be put into the virtualization software. It's not only the effort of the virtualization vendor. It's also necessary for the network manager, the storage manager, and the server administrator to combine their design intelligence with the best feedback they can get from operations, then dictate the limits within which end-user self-service may live in their organization. In effect, the virtualization software and the cross-discipline IT management team will create a set of choices, and automated services can take over from there to activate a given VM.
The private and public cloud services that we know today are not static. They will constantly seek a higher level of abstraction, just as aeronautical engineering seeks aircraft capable of higher speeds and altitudes, to provide better service to the business end user. That process is well underway and cloud users are interested, according to the results of this survey. The main question is how far it can go.
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek.
According to our Outlook 2012 Survey, IT should expect soaring demand but cautious hiring as companies use technology to try to get closer to customers. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: Inside Windows Server 8. (Free registration required.)