Today, the cloud is everywhere, and everything is in the cloud. But how exactly did we get here? And what does it mean going forward? These are the big-picture questions cloud expert Mat Ellis addressed in New Relic’s latest FutureTalk in our Portland, Ore., engineering headquarters.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Mat has held executive positions with four startups as well as key technology roles at Frito-Lay, Pepsi Cola, and Goldman Sachs. Now based in Portland, Mat founded Cloudability in 2011 to provide companies with critical cloud cost and usage data. With 60 employees and a growing roster of clients that includes Adobe, Uber, and Pega, Cloudability is living proof of the power—and complexity—of cloud services today.
Mat’s talk highlighted the deep historical forces at work in the cloud industry by sharing a pair of informative history lessons. He began by tracing the last three decades of technological advances for business, from “big companies” in the 1990s to “big cloud” in the 2010s.
Back in the big company days, Mat recalled, offices were dull, blank spaces—not a computer in sight. In 1992, when Bill Gates predicted a PC on every desk, nobody (including Mat) imagined just how quickly that vision would be realized. “The rate of technical change can surprise us,” Mat said.
In the 2000s, as the dust from the dot-com collapse was settling, Google cracked the scalable architecture problem. How? By figuring out how to trawl the entire Internet using little more than a commodity PC. The real-world impacts of that achievement cannot be overestimated.
“Startups can do two things,” Mat said. “Figure out how to do something hard, or take something that just became easy and find a way to do it well—fast. Google did both.”
Google laid the foundations for cloud computing as we know it today, Mat said. Businesses have gone from wasting money building ever-bigger rack clusters to saving it by using free software and commodity hardware. “Now,” Mat said, “your money goes to your people, not just your vendors.”
Still, when Mat turned to cloud storage after a data center fire in early 2008, it was with some reluctance—and desperation. But he quickly perceived the potential of the cloud, and was soon busy helping companies realize that potential.
With the cloud’s explosive growth, however, has come an increase in uncontrolled cloud deployments in many enterprises. Without proper planning or sufficient visibility, Mat said, the process of assembling a cloud-based infrastructure can get expensive, fast. And traditional IT cost controls are typically optimized for up-front spending on on-premise solutions, not the ongoing costs of Infrastructure-as-a-Service.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Businesses, he said, can remain agile and effective while still benefitting from the power of the cloud. The secret? Outsourcing basic technology needs in order to focus on wider business goals. As an example, Mat compared Netflix’s explosive international growth with HBO’s less successful attempts to get to grips with streaming. The former adopted and harnessed the power of the cloud early on, he said, while the latter is still figuring out how to do so.
This, Mat said, is simple economics. But to understand the contemporary intersection of software and supply chain dynamics, it’s crucial to grasp “comparative advantage,” which he summed up as “Do the things you’re best at and buy the rest.”
To hear Mat’s second history lesson, learn why the tipping point for cloud services is now, and discover why he believes cloud will have as big an impact as did television, the PC, and the Internet, watch his full FutureTalk below:
What’s next for FutureTalks?
Join us in March 14 for a talk by Neocities founder Kyle Drake on “Hyperboria: The Completely Distributed Internet.” For more information about our FutureTalks series, make sure to join our Meetup group, New Relic FutureTalks PDX, and follow us on Twitter @newrelic for the latest developments and updates on upcoming events.
Note: Event dates, participants, and topics are subject to change without notice.
Cloud image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.