I recently had cause to investigate how you might use a utility/cloud computing service, like Amazon S3, to provide an efficient and modestly priced solution to serving up video-on-demand content services, as an alternative to the more traditional offerings of streaming video platform providers.
I was impressed by the level of intelligence behind not only the pricing of such services (just cheap enough so it makes more sense to outsource – Coase theorem at work), but also the dynamism reflected in the engineering of their underlying infrastructure.
Amazon, and others, provide some seriously ‘grunty’ utility/cloud infrastructure. The recent S3 outage notwithstanding, utility/cloud computing is here to stay. Its adoption by businesses is likely to be accelerated by the early successes of server virtualisation technology adoption by enterprise users, spearheaded by VMWare.
This points to an exciting new realm of opportunities for "middle men" to move this capability into the hands of consumers. Allow me to explain.
We are the last generation who will ever have to worry about launching an installation CD.
We are the last generation who will ever have to worry about disk (storage) capacity.
We are the last generation who will ever have to worry about CPU speeds.
Finally, but importantly, we are the last generation who will ever have to worry about bandwidth throughput (speed).
Imagine what you could do in a world when you’re free of these kinds of constraints.
We’re starting to see the potential indirectly, in the guise of the rapid proliferation of Facebook apps. These apps exist "out there". We don’t care where they reside. Importantly, we play no active role in their installation, configuration or management. Equally, these apps care little about the end user equipment/device or infrastructure being used to access and interact with them.
This is how software (and services-powered-by-software) will look for all users within the next decade.
The promise of utility/cloud computing infrastructure, then, is that it will finally hide the technology. And history tells us that when technology ceases being ‘technical’ – when technology shifts from the core of the experience to the periphery – immense behavioural changes follow.
Now back to the opportunity for middle men.
While utility/cloud computing infrastructure has hidden (or, at least, is starting to hide) the technology, it is still a fairly immature offering, in that – as a product offering – it is largely focused at technical users.
While it is easy to setup an Amazon S3 account, for instance, it is still quite difficult to configure and manage the services that you purchase/consume. This represents an unnecessary hurdle in the current environment, in which – thanks for ‘mashup’ services and the like – non-technical users are being increasingly encouraged to ‘develop’ software-based solutions to every day problems.
This creates a market for an intermediate layer: companies who take utility/cloud computing services and repackage them in a way that makes them accessible to non-technical users. Companies like Morph have taken a step in the right direction, but there is still plenty of scope for innovation in this new market niche.