Most people by now agree that “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is not a recipe for commercial success in technology innovation. In many cases it is not the quality of the technology that determines the winner. It is about timing, branding and addressing the right problem with the right audience using a fairly adequate solution.
The history of IT is full of examples of technologies that were not necessarily superior, but that turned out to become winners. Who would have expected the fairly random and uncontrolled TCP/IP to win over Tokenring or other more robust technologies. Not to mention the classic battle of Windows versus OS/2. The question is whether the cloud race will run along significantly different paths.
All who lived through trying to implement serious enterprise and business solutions on top of these historic “winners” remember how hard this actually was. Not to say it was impossible, but it did require some serious high-wire acrobatics and advanced juggling. Think of the tools that companies had to deploy or develop to manage the infamous DLL hell and the advanced acrobatics needed to manage memory space or the database tricks needed to live with page level locking.
Luckily winning is not the end state for technology innovations. It is merely the beginning of a ongoing race to becoming better, faster and robuster. But for customers moving from 8 or 16 to 32 or 64 bit was far from a ride in the park. It required hard work and meant leaving some casualties behind (mainly in the form of applications not being able to make the transition).
The cloud race will likely be subtly – but not radically – different from these historic technology rides. Aspiring providers are frantically working on building better mousetraps, while established providers (but how established can one be in such a young and rapidly growing market) are aggressively expanding or even reinventing their offerings.
Companies that tried to run or build enterprise solutions on windows 3.1 now agree that in retrospect it was more bleeding than leading edge (although is did establish good starting competitive positions for some). In retrospect it was always hard to predict the infliction point. At exactly what point did the technology reach a level that it became feasible as a mass solution. Time will tell whether we will look back at today’s clouds effort as brave (but a bit foolish) or as brilliant (and a major step forward).