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How Cloud Computing Is Driven by Mobile, Media and Marketing

I observed an interesting debate on Twitter a couple weeks ago between an advocate of "enterprise" computing and an Amazon Web Services champion. After it went back and forth I bit, I offered my contribution: Somebody is using a ton of AWS, and it's growing like crazy.

Listening to this debate reminds me of the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus discussion about how two people can discuss something and still fail to understand the other person's basic perspective. In the case of this Twitter debate, the discussion failed to address a key question: What are the requirements of the applications running in those environments?

The crucial fact is that those who defend enterprise computing fail to grasp the fact that legacy IT infrastructure and operations don't address the requirements of new application types that I label the "three M's"-mobile, media and marketing. These apps are flocking to public cloud computing because they're not well served by traditional infrastructure and are much more aligned with what cloud computing brings to the table.

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It's critical to understand the characteristics of these applications to understand why demand for cloud computing is in its early growth phase-and why we're about to see its already rapid adoption accelerate even further.

Cloud Computing and Mobile: A Different User Population

Legacy enterprise applications could be tuned to a couple operating systems and a few browsers. They also had very predictable user populations and use patterns. The emphasis for these kinds of applications vis-à-vis infrastructure is to implement a static environment and make it difficult to modify.

Mobile applications, on the other hand, are a very different. They run on a bunch of different devices, which increases the combination of interfaces that applications need to be able to support. Moreover, companies often provide API interfaces to their applications to enable independent developers to create applications outside the purview of the company's own IT organization-the company won't even know what devices are going to be in the user population.

The growth of APIs is one of the real underreported stories of the past couple years, but it's huge and very much driven by a mobile application world. (The upshot of this is that mobile applications pose significant challenges to the design and operation of legacy applications.)

Related: As Mobile Grows, So Does Cloud Computing

A further issue is that mobile applications are much less predictable in terms of user populations and application load. All it takes is a prominent Twitter user or Facebook celebrity to highlight the application and make traffic skyrocket 10 or 100 times. When high load variability meets legacy infrastructure, something's going to give-and it's most likely going to be the infrastructure.

Public cloud computing environments, by contrast, are well-suited for the demands of mobile applications. High-load variability is easily handled by their very large infrastructures.

Cloud Computing and Media: Huge Traffic

It's something of a misnomer these days to talk about a media company, since every company is becoming a media company. Video is becoming the sine qua non of how companies communicate with important stakeholders. And it's huge. Every year Cisco Systems comes out with five-year projections of Internet traffic, and every year the company ups them. The reason? Video.

Every company is leveraging video in one of the following ways-and this list is certainly not exhaustive:

  • Marketing campaigns, particularly those with a clever or snarky twist, like the Will It Blend? series from Blend-Tec that has racked up 221 million views. Every company's fervent wish is that its marketing video will go viral and drive heightened consumer interest in its products.
  • Partner, user or employee training. There's no faster way to demonstrate how to use a product than with a video. Plus, video is much more engaging than written documentation.
  • Announcements. Video is a good way to make a company's announcements stand out from the blizzard of written press releases spewed onto the Internet every day.

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Video is a huge consumer of bandwidth, and it's very sensitive to latency disruptions. The average company's internal network is insufficient to support the kind of traffic video requires, and the network capacity that is available is tuned to support legacy transactional application needs. When you marry mobile and video, it's obvious that legacy infrastructures are inadequate to support the requirements of these applications.

Cloud Computing and Marketing: Constant Change

Now that marketing and advertising have shifted decisively to the Internet, their nature is changing as well. Because ad delivery used to be so difficult, marketing and advertising campaigns remained static. Rolling out a new TV ad across the U.S. required getting new tapes to multiple TV stations and cable/satellite providers. The process-especially making sure everyone had the right version of the ad-was so time-consuming that changes were relatively infrequent.

Today, by contrast, online marketing and advertising campaigns are served up centrally. This reduces the change overhead by more than 90 percent.

Study: U.S. Online Marketing Spending Up 14 Percent in 2012's First Half

But guess what? Reduced friction encourages more change. In turn, that requires changes to both infrastructure and application code. In other words, it means a radically reduced application lifecycle-and that runs smack into legacy infrastructure managed to reduce change, with management controls such as ITIL imposing manual processes to control infrequent change.

The expectations of the next generation of marketing and advertising is that campaigns can be rolled out quickly, modified rapidly and terminated immediately. If you read my last post on cloud computing budgets, you know this kind of application is projected to be a majority of IT spend in 2017.

Consequently, the expectations of the majority of IT spending are going to confront the legacy practices and processes for enterprise infrastructure and applications. It's not going to be pretty. While many in the IT community have an unspoken wish that things will settle down and we'll go back to the old ways of doing things, that wish can pretty much be written off. These expectations aren't going to go away.

If anything, one can predict they will be even more strongly pushed as the possibilities of what can be done with online marketing become more embedded in the discipline. In five years, the everyday expectation will be marketing campaigns tuned daily-or even hourly-in according to real-time analytics performed on tracking data.

I expect the discussion to be over in five years. The definition of enterprise will have expanded to incorporate the requirements of the three M's, and the practices and processes of legacy IT will have been discarded as inadequate for the needs of the three M's. Mobile, media, and marketing will force as much change into IT as the PC did-and, as the change plays out, with just as much disruption.

Bernard Golden is the vice president of Enterprise Solutions for enStratus Networks, a cloud management software company. He is the author of three books on virtualization and cloud computing, including Virtualization for Dummies. Follow Bernard Golden on Twitter @bernardgolden.

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Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.

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