More clouds, more problems
Image: Caroline Mackay / Protocol

More clouds, more problems

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol Cloud, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This week: Why even the best engineers face a multicloud learning curve, the Hotel California of enterprise computing, and an autumn without Dreamforce?

The Big Story

When choice is complicated

As it became clear that cloud computing was going to redefine how businesses operate on the internet, lots of tech buyers held out the promise that they could navigate their apps across multiple clouds as a hedge against placing too large a bet on any one vendor. It hasn't exactly worked out that way.

That's because the learning curve is steep when it comes to understanding the complexity of operating even one cloud environment. Companies might find themselves supporting multiple clouds as the result of acquisitions or a very decentralized operating model, but it's increasingly clear that asking the tech department to support multiple clouds for a single endeavor is a fool's errand.

This week we saw another example that underscored that reality.

  • Tim Bray, the former AWS engineer who loudly resigned over Amazon's response to the pandemic, posted a few thoughts about a tech talk from Google Cloud's Stewart Reichling and Kelsey Hightower, from the perspective of a Google Cloud noob.
  • The talk itself is super technical (I understood a third of it, generously) but what's striking is how Bray, a renowned engineer who has made countless contributions to web and cloud development, was surprised by the philosophical approach required by Google Cloud's tools compared to how one would accomplish a similar task on AWS.
  • In his retelling, Google's approach isn't good or bad; it's just different, and would require someone who has only worked with AWS to relearn some key concepts to get the same project up and running on Google Cloud.
  • If Bray was taken aback, you can be sure that the average engineer asked to rebuild an application designed for one cloud on a competing cloud would struggle.

Cloud managers spent years worrying about being locked in by one cloud provider's practices. But as the Duckbill Group's Corey Quinn put it last week, the real lock-in problem is the mental overhead required to operate a modern application across multiple clouds.

  • You will find companies that work with two or three cloud providers, but that's often the result of a merger or acquisition.
  • Other companies are large enough to give individual departments autonomy over selecting the cloud that offers the best tools for their jobs, but those are also companies that can afford to hire top-tier cloud talent.
  • And, yes, Kubernetes could be the abstraction layer that allows applications to move between clouds. But Kubernetes is an even-more complex jackhammer in search of a nail; its powerful capabilities are way beyond what most companies need or want.

So what does this mean for the broader cloud market? For the most part, cloud providers aren't yet competing against each other for applications that are already running in a cloud; they're competing against each other for applications that have yet to move to the cloud.

  • On Monday, Gartner released its 2019 cloud infrastructure market share numbers, and it's clear that despite a growing market, worldwide cloud market share isn't changing that dramatically.
  • Once again AWS recorded more revenue than all four of its major competitors combined, despite growing a little slower than the overall market.
  • Microsoft, Alibaba and Google all picked up a small amount of market share at AWS' expense. But "others" (think legacy providers like IBM and Oracle, mostly) lost the most market share during the year.
  • At some point, growth in this market will start to slow below the 37.3% clip posted in 2019, and the style of competition will change, but that won't happen to any significant degree in 2020.

There are good reasons to be wary about finding yourself tied down to a single cloud vendor five years down the road, because a lot can change in a short amount of time. But it's hard enough to manage a single modern cloud environment, and outside a few special cases, it seems unlikely that the second wave of cloud business will start out life with companies operating across multiple clouds.

Join us on September 1


Edge computing is an emerging concept that holds great promise. AI best practices are still evolving in the cloud. Join us on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 9 a.m. PT / noon ET to further understand edge computing, how it will change the way modern business applications are built, and why AI processes will have to be conduced at the edge. Speakers to be announced. This event is presented in partnership with Intel.

Register here.

This Week In Protocol

Tiffany-twisted: HPE CEO Antonio Neri's customers are exactly who the cloud providers are going after during this second wave of cloud adoption, and he's betting that a new product called GreenLake will help those customers move workloads between their own data centers and cloud providers. Count him among the believers of cloud as the new lock-in: "When you check in to the public cloud, it is like checking in to Hotel California: You check in and never check out, because that cost is ginormous."

Mesh networks: Microsoft initially tried to stay above the service mesh fray with a neutral approach to the emerging technology, but decided to throw its hat in the ring last week with the Open Service Mesh. It's a direct shot at Google Cloud's Istio, described as easier to use and understand with plans for open governance under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Why AI? Depending on where you sit, it will unlock a powerful new future or accelerate the fall of civilization. But if you sit in the U.S. Congress like Rep. Robin Kelly, it doesn't really matter: Either way, the United States needs to be a leader in AI research.

Five Questions For...

Michelle Grover, Twilio CIO

What was your first job in tech?

I programmed pagers in BasicIV for PacTel/AirTouch.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting their first tech job?

Stay enthusiastic! I am inspired every day by team members who are filled with excitement about their first tech role and love to see the fresh ideas and perspectives they bring to the table. I like to remind them that their enthusiasm and passion should be looked at as a gift rather than a trait to outgrow over the course of their career.

What was the biggest reason for the success of cloud computing over the past decade?

Cloud has lowered the barrier to entry for disruptors. You don't have to have the budget of an enterprise to build something in the cloud, and once you've built it, you can put it to market quickly. That's spurred innovation in every industry, and the success of these innovators further spurred adoption of the cloud.

What will be the biggest challenge for cloud computing over the coming decade?

The biggest challenge can be found in traditional companies in highly regulated industries: They've been resistant to change and now need to completely reinvent. This is no simple shift to the cloud, this is a full rebuild to be cloud-native. It's a big undertaking, but I believe the COVID-19 pandemic made many companies realize that they have to transform to stay competitive.

Will the pandemic usher in a new era of remote working, or will we all come back together when it is safe to do so?

The pandemic has certainly been a catalyst for a new era of workplace flexibility. We're seeing more and more companies change policies on remote work and employee location, and I don't see that reversing once the pandemic is over. I can see a world where the workplace is more agile and companies are prepared to empower employees whether they work in an office, from home or a mix of the two.

Around the Cloud

  • One huge question surrounding a Microsoft acquisition of TikTok is how difficult it would be to rebuild the app on Microsoft's cloud. The back-end code for TikTok is very much co-mingled with Bytedance's other apps, according to Reuters, which could present quite a challenge.
  • It's a good time to renew efforts to protect open-source software, as researchers at the virtual Black Hat security event last week disclosed flaws in an open-source software library built by "a prominent cryptocurrency exchange that the researchers declined to name," Wired reported.
  • On the other hand, at the same event Facebook open-sourced a tool used by Instagram to analyze code written in Python and fix bugs that could cause serious security problems.
  • Microsoft kicked off the cloud-code-in-your-data-center movement with Azure Stack, and now that AWS Outposts is available it's preparing an update to that strategy using the Microsoft-designed hardware that runs Azure, as opposed to the commodity hardware that runs Azure Stack.
  • AWS ended a period of relative silence about quantum computing last year at re:Invent. Now, construction has begun at Caltech on the Amazon Web Services Center for Quantum Computing, one of its announcements from last year.
  • The work-from-home shift shows no signs of slowing down. That's good news for Dropbox, which reported better-than-expected earnings in its most recent quarter.
  • With all due respect to Seattle, there's a strong argument that the hamlets of Northern Virginia are the true Cloud Cities, and data center management company Digital Reality plans to make yet another huge bet on the region.
  • The Information had a nice profile of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who is apparently not convinced that a virtual event could duplicate the revival tent that is the company's annual Dreamforce customer event.
  • West Coast stoner lifeline Jack in the Box now runs on AWS.

Thanks for reading — see you next week.

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