Recently we had the pleasure of having an extended conversation with Barb Darrow, Senior Writer at GigaOM on the cloud beat. Our discussion was wide-ranging, covering her perspectives on the major trends in the cloud space, how cloud is driving innovation, enterprise cloud adoption, and much more.
Gathering Clouds: Do you anticipate cloud attracting an increasingly business-level oriented audience as opposed to technical?
Barb Darrow: I actually do. I think because that’s the way things are going. I think there’s going to be much more of a business user slant going forward. And, you know, that’s why we’re doing a lot more big data stuff and cloud-focused reporting. They are consumers, but there are a ton of enterprise companies composing the audience.
GC: Thought leaders in the cloud space seem to promote content mainly via social media. How do you see that particular medium helping to advance the conversation around cloud computing?
BD: It’s funny how that specific trend parallels my news gathering process, which has changed in the last couple of years. I used to go up to my readers, my RSS readers, get up early, go to those different online sources to find what I needed to write an article. Now, the first thing I go to is Twitter. And I search on what the people I respect have posted. I search on different hashtags. I find that Twitter is an unbelievable tool for news gathering, provided you check things out of course. I’ve been able to report whole stories based on Twitter, even pinging people for quotes to flesh out the narrative. It’s really an amazing tool for a journalist.
GC: Do you see social media as particularly valuable for this space? It seems that so many of the people being obviously tech-oriented are also inclined to be communicating by social media.
BD: Oh, absolutely. And I also think that there’s a lot of people like me who are working from non-traditional locations – I work out of my house since GigaOM is out of San Francisco. But there are a lot of people who are working on their own and Twitter becomes the metaphorical “water cooler.” You know, I work at home and I actually really miss having an office to go to. So Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have become kind of my sounding boards. It’s just a really great place to get a real-time reality check if you’re working on something.
GC: Who are you listening to? Whose Twitter feeds are you particularly interested in following all the time?
BD: Oh, gosh. There are a million people. David Linthicum, for one. James Staten from Forrester. But also people representing the different technologies, like the team from Eucalyptus and some of the people at Microsoft. Hacker News is also fantastic. That’s the one place I still check my RSS reader for, which is not necessarily social media, but it’s a great source of information.
But in terms of Twitter, I use it to connect to people every day. I have lawyers up there, other news gatherers, the other people I work with at GigaOM, Techmeme, and The Wall Street Journal. It’s almost hell because it makes my ADD go into overdrive.
GC: How are you seeing smaller cloud providers differentiating themselves from, and even directly taking on, these larger cloud providers like HP, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.?
BD: Well, you know, companies like HP are very vulnerable. But here’s the ironic thing: having a presence in a locality where you’re close geographically to your customers or some of your customers can be a really big advantage. And it seems counterintuitive but it’s true. That and, I hate this word, but bespoke or customized services for customers are really powerful differentiators. Providers that are specialized who might actually have a phone number you could call are great. Good luck calling some of these big companies if something goes wrong. There’s definitely room for differentiation there.
GC: But is it simply in the customization of the model or is there more to it? Is it the technical expertise, or is it the access?
BD: Yeah, absolutely. And the access to the technical expertise, given how everyone’s IT budget is, as we keep reading, under stress. The existing IT departments within companies are stressed to do more with less. And as apps, data, and dynamic loads get offloaded to the cloud, it would be helpful if your internal IT folks had access to the cloud IT folks.
GC: What’s your perspective though, considering that cloud is meant to be this great cost-saver and game changer in the ways that IT can interact with the rest of the business? Why do IT budgets continue to be stressed if such a technology exists that theoretically can cut major cost?
BD: Well, I think most of the surveys have said that cloud can save some cost. But the real advantage with cloud is that it enables better and easier deployment. With a cloud-enabled IT organization, you can make sure everybody is on the same version of the software.
There are other advantages, I think, that actually outweigh cost. It’s helpful because you don’t have to go through server upgrades as much. I think the term is business agility, which sounds like kind of a made-up term but it’s for real. [Business agility] is actually a bigger consideration going to cloud than pure cost savings.
GC: What’s missing in this space, both from the service provider and the technology developer side?
BD: That’s a good question. The cloud service provider is supposed to be able to sweat out a lot of the complexity. But then again, if you look at some of these providers, the complexity involved with ordering up the services, which contract to sign, which services to get, how the pricing model changes from week to week or day to day, can stifle a client. There’s just an incredible amount of complexity. I guess I’m talking mostly about AWS here. But there’s a whole cottage industry that has grown up around helping companies explain their own Amazon usage to themselves.
GC: Looking ahead a little bit, what do you see in the next three to five years as major developments? What would you like to see more of, from both the providers and then the technology enablers?
BD: What would I like to see? Again, simplicity of the model and transparency will make the difference. Vendors are always saying that they’re transparent, and then you talk to their customers and they’re not. The thing to watch is how legacy hardware companies are all trying to glom onto the cloud model. They’re all trying to provide the servers that will power the Facebooks, the Googles and the Amazons of the world. The ironic thing there is that the Googles, Facebooks, and Amazons of the world are not buying hardware from these providers anymore. So one thing I would look for is that these hardware guys, if they’re not able to negotiate this move to a new business model, they are going to be gone. Right now, HP is in this spot. Dell is in this spot. It’s almost like their target market has disappeared or is disappearing.
Facebook, for example, is building its own servers for its new data center in Sweden. This is not what you asked, but I think this is a really interesting trend going forward. What is going to happen with these guys? Are they going to consolidate further? Are they going to buy other cloud providers just to hedge their bets going forward? I think we’re already seeing that happen. What would I like to see from them? I would like to see, in general, just a better and clearer sales pitch of what they’re offering instead of the typical BS that they’re presently giving people.
GC: Do you see a lot of consolidation on the horizon?
BD: If you look at the companies that Dell and HP have been buying, yeah, definitely. But I also see a lot of startups coming up. But I think a lot of startups get launched to be bought. It does seem to be the exit.
By Jake Gardner