Notes From Xconomy’s Cloud Computing Extravaganza

6/26/08Follow @bbuderi

“Ask not just what the cloud can do for you, but what you can do with the cloud.” — Sim Simeonov, Polaris Venture Partners

“My opinion is this is a land grab.” — John Landry, former CTO of Lotus, founder, Lead Dog Ventures

“The key is the location of your data. The land grab is really a data grab.” — Josh Coates, founder, Mozy

These were some of the memorable lines from our big cloud computing event, held on Tuesday at Akamai’s headquarters in Cambridge, MA. In reflecting on the event, let me say happily that, in addition to such great lines, very few bad cloud jokes were flying around—and I am pretty sure all of them came from Wade, our chief correspondent and punster. Does the cloud have a silver lining? he asked. Is it a cumulous cloud, dark and heavy, or a light and airy cirrus? Sorry to rain on your parade, Wade, but those jokes left me in a fog.

But it was otherwise an information-packed, quippy, occassionally quibbly, and pretty much always insightful afternoon. Our speakers put cloud computing in its historical context—from the Cambrian explosion all the way through the rise of electric utilities. They showed how businesses today can use this emerging technology for cost-effective and powerful computing solutions. And they also gave us a feel for the real paradigm shift the cloud could bring to the computing world, especially how large software companies might find themselves vulnerable to disruption (although some firms are still in denial about this).

I can’t attempt to do justice to the whole afternoon in one story (you can find the agenda here). But hopefully the audience of roughly 150 who poured into Akamai’s headquarters (and got poured on by the torrential rains that started just as the meeting broke up) all learned a lot. We have posted some photos here. And to go with them, here are my own notes of the highlights and key take-aways from the afternoon.

For starters, there is clear consensus that there is no real consensus on what cloud computing is. Akamai’s Andy Champagne agreed on this, but said one thing he was sure of was that Software as a Service was not cloud. This got interesting stares from Josh Coates, founder of SaaS online backup company Mozy, which EMC bought last year for around $80 million and made part of its new Cloud division. Coates (who raised less than $2 million in venture funding for Mozy, as opposed to his previous company Scale8, which raised $60 million and turned into what he good-naturedly described as a “train wreck”) showed a slide of Wikipedia’s cloud page, which includes the ironic warning that, “All or part of this article may be confusing or unclear.” Coates predicted, “We’re only really going to find out what the cloud is when we look back. Oh, that was the cloud.”

The uncertainty led some to question whether a real revolution/transformation is underway, an attitude that left panel moderator John Landry, the former CTO of Lotus and the founder of Lead Dog Ventures, shaking his head. The transformation is clearly at hand, Landry argued, adding: “There are enormous business opportunities for small companies, not necessarily venture backed.”

Keynoter Nick Carr, whose book The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google is a primer on the rise of utility-style computing, took us back to 1851, when Henry Burden built the world’s largest water wheel to power his manufacturing plant in upstate New York—giving him a huge advantage because he was able to wrest more power from flowing water than his competitors. But Carr then showed photos of the decaying wheel from a few decades later, after the rise of electric utilities had made such personal power plants nearly obsolete, by providing a grid that anyone could plug into.

The IT utility—read cloud—is the next great technology “that’s going to go through a similar transformation,” Carr said. This new era, Carr and most speakers agreed, would bring huge … Next Page »

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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