Can the cloud succeed without a killer app?

CommunityOne panelist suggests its general advantages are enough to gain traction

So what will be the killer app that drives innovation in cloud computing? Perhaps none, because no killer app is needed, a Sun executive suggested during a panel discussion Monday at the CommunityOne event in San Francisco, which opened just prior to the JavaOne conference. Panelists including Tim Bray, Sun's director of Web technologies and a founder of XML, and Lew Tucker, Sun's CTO for cloud computing, touched on a variety of topics pertaining to the cloud concept, including what CIOs might think of it. With cloud computing, users access application and data services hosted over the Internet by a third party; a company's own data could be hosted inside a cloud.

Bray said there has been no killer application that sparked either the PHP language or the Ruby on Rails framework into the popularity they now enjoy. "They just became immensely popular because they allowed people to become more agile," Bray said. "My suspicion is we're looking at a repeat of that story."

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For developers, the cloud means "fire and forget," with the cloud able to scale to meet demand, said panel moderator Ray Valdes, a Gartner analyst. But he pointed out there are still some risks with cloud computing, recalling a situation where a social networking service lost data that had not been backed up. Bray said he suspected that, in many cases, it will not be the CIO who brings the cloud into the enterprise. "CIOs felt threatened by PCs and the Internet and lots of other things," Bray said when interviewed later. The cloud takes data outside the corporate firewall, which can be scary for a CIO, he reasoned.

Tucker said as users scale up to higher-level cloud services, they find themselves facing more or restrictions. But he added, "I'm really hoping to see that we're going to see a plethora" of services and applications flourish in clouds. Considering what constitutes a litmus test for cloud computing, Bray cited elasticity. Cloud users might find themselves suddenly in need of compute power from 150 servers and will want to know if their cloud provider can offer them. He was dismissive of service-level agreements, though. "Frankly, I think SLA and $3 will get you a coffee," Bray said.

The panel cited as providing capabilities for the cloud, such as governance and a repository that might make CIOs more comfortable with the cloud concept. "I think it's one of these kind of hidden tools in cloud computing and cloud development platforms," Valdes said.

Sun plans to offer its Sun Cloud service this summer, but with Oracle preparing to buy Sun, questions remain about Oracle's commitment to the effort. Neither Bray nor Tucker would comment on the situation on Monday.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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