Whose cloud is it anyway? Appirio’s takeaways from presenting at TechCrunch’s Cloud Computing Roundtable

March 2, 2009 Appirio

Ryan Nichols

We were invited to demonstrate our Referral Management Solution at Friday’s Cloud Computing Roundtable, put on by TechCrunch. The provocative title of the event was “Whose cloud is it anyway?”, and TechCrunch invited a who’s who in cloud computing to help resolve the issue.

TechCrunch asked this question ahead of the event : “Are we on the verge of a new set of platform wars that will make the Windows vs. Mac war look like Tiddlywinks? Or will all the different cloud platforms which are emerging create an interwoven fabric of Web applications that draw from each cloud as is convenient?”

Our presentation was meant to illustrate that we firmly believe in a future of connecting the clouds, NOT cloud warfare. The Referral Management Solution we demonstrated happens to draw on the capabilities of 4 different on-demand platforms: We use the workflow and process management of Force.com, the social graph of Facebook, the computing power of Amazon EC2, and the communication and collaboration capabilities of Google Gadgets. Thanks to these platforms, Appirio was able to focus on solving our customer’s problems, NOT rebuilding these underlying capabilities. Best of all? Our customers don’t need to know where our application runs in order to capture the benefits.

This is definitely a new model of delivering applications. Because we use the platforms of others, much of our solution is invisible. Our users think they are using Salesforce and Facebook, not “Appirio.” This naturally brings up the type of questions we got from the judges on Friday: in essence, do you need to own a platform in order to build an interesting business on the cloud? Our view? Of course not. Interesting companies result from solving important problems. If you don’t have to start from scratch, even better.

The roundtable discussion afterwards illustrated how much cloud computing has already changed the business of writing applications. Our favorite (paraphrased) quotes from the round table illustrating this point:
  • Vic Gundotra, VP Engineering at Google, on the idea of cloud warfare: “”Paradigms of the past skew our vision of the present– that’s what’s going on here. Maybe 10-15 years ago, the platform you were on influenced the applications you could run. Platform lock-in really mattered. The Internet has changed that. Through the web, we’ve created a platform that’s open enough that you can just expect these apps to work together.”
  • Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning, on the question of whether startups should use cloud platforms: “Markets are moving so much faster today. If you make the decision to use the old paradigm, not only are you spending a lot more money, you just can’t compete.
  • Paul Buchheit, Co-founder of FriendFeed and creator of Gmail, on the power of bringing together multiple cloud platforms: “The Internet is a single computer. When working with one machine, I no longer need to worry ‘where is my data’– end-users don’t need to care”
  • Amitabh Srivastava, Corporate VP of Windows Azure, laying out a surprising perspective on the future of cloud platforms: “I think you’ll see a new set of platforms come in, each will be open and inter-operable.”
  • Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon: “The real value comes from aggregation of these resources…this will enable a whole new generation of applications that could never be built before.”
  • Lew Tucker, CTO of Cloud Computing at Sun Microsystems, on whether interesting businesses can be built on the cloud platforms of others: “The next Google is going to be built on the cloud. If you were starting today, you’d start directly on the cloud.”

The consensus from the roundtable on these points was so strong, that the topic of “platform warfare” was almost taken off the table. It took Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, to remind us of the reality at most companies today. “The real platform war is still against the old paradigm,” he reminded us. “The masses out there don’t know that they don’t need to buy software and hardware anymore.”

Even those stalwarts of the old world, SAP and Oracle are starting make more SaaS/PaaS noise . A topic we’ll explore further later this week as part of our

2009 predictions series.

You can watch the entire three hours of the event here.

You can also watch it on co-presenter’s ooyala’s neat player.

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