Cloud Resources as a Commodity

In my article tech predictions for the 2020s I discussed the relevance of a commodity market for cloud resources and why that might be a reality in the future. However I recently read an article making the claim that cloud computing does not (or would not) fall into the category of a commodity. 

One of the best points of the article was that commodities are nearly always natural resources such as wheat, corn, oil etc. Indeed that’s true but we do have energies; electricity, gas and various other utilities that are traded based on the capacity of their national grid systems. 

Article by Simon Challinor
Photo by from Pexels

I think it still makes sense that cloud infrastructure will be seen as a high level utility and traded as a commodity similar to energy in the future.  However the current state of cloud computing, still in relative infancy, is not quite ready to be viewed as a commodity.  Cloud providers offer virtual machines (VMs being the units of computing) in all manor of combinations of virtual CPU, CPU generation, RAM, bandwidth etc. plus discounts are provided based on tenancy with 3 year duration, and payment upfront being significantly cheaper than the same VM on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

With all the complexity in product offerings and the variance between cloud providers there’s no proper benchmark for comparison of services, but there should be.  

Whist it feels we have moved forwards significantly since the days of datacenters and the traditional hosting company perhaps we have only taken a few steps into the concept of cloud.  I believe we should still consider the current paradigm of cloud computing to be an ‘early generation’.

The granularity of the product we are purchasing currently is too large to compare; a bag of apples vs a box of pears. Perhaps market forces will demand the product is bought and sold in simpler quantities such as machine cycles at which point we may be able to benchmark one provider with another and a homogenized commodity market would start to appear. 


Tech predictions for the 2020s

As we move forwards into 2020 its a good time to review, once again, on where we believe the general field of software and information technology is headed.

Article by Simon Challinor
Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Our Vanishing Devices

Over the last decade we have witnessed a continuous convergence of technologies especially related to mobile devices, where computing power has increased while simultaneously fitting into ever smaller form factors.  We are approaching a point where many tasks can theoretically be performed on the smallest of device with only the size of the screen and human interface dictating whether we prefer to use one particular device over another.

The cloud is becoming ever more prevalent and the rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) is likely still in its infancy.  It would seem only a continuation of the same trend if our devices were to disappear all together.

Indeed if all computing power was delegated to the cloud, the only elements necessary to remain present would be screens and human interface devices. Currently that last category would include the still ubiquitous mouse and keyboard combination.

On the subject of convergence it would seem logical that the various subdivisions between TVs, monitors or dedicated device screens would start to break down. A screen designed for a single function would have no place in the coming decade. 

Screen casting is becoming more mainstream but a single universal technology, shared throughout all the major hardware manufacturers is still missing. Apple is certainly one manufacturer that has been responsible for pushing their own proprietary technologies ahead of universal standards.  Conversely, the Universal Serial Bus, better known as the USB connection and associated technology, was developed in the 90s by seven companies; Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC and Nortel. Its a shame but perhaps the current environment with Apple dominant is not conducive to the same leaps in compatibility between devices. 

Computing in the Cloud, Only

With processing and storage being pushed into the cloud our devices could become simpler.  This is similar to the ‘thin client’ and ‘virtual desktop’ concepts popularised in corporates from the 2000s onwards. Players such as Citrix provide server and client software for facilitating remote desktops; whereby the operating system and applications run in a server farm and only images of the desktop are transmitted to remote locations.

Over the last decade, simple Google Chrome-books (running mostly browser based applications) and cloud storage services like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, designed for the general public, are a further continuation of the same trend.  This trend is pushing towards computing in the cloud … only. 

Hardware as a Commodity

Read about Virtual Computers here.

In an earlier article I considered the abstraction of computers and the separation of computer hardware away from the ‘virtual computers’ that temporarily exist within them.  This concept is especially relevant when considering ‘containerisation’ and ‘orchestration’ technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. These technologies allow virtual computers to jump from one physical piece of hardware to another with little effort.

However the physical raw ingredients of cloud computing itself are becoming a commodity.  The units of computing such as VMs (Virtual Machines) are provided by all the major players; Amazon (AWS), Microsoft Azure, AliCloud, Digital Ocean etc. Plus they all provide a number of data storage options. 

Therefore, as the next few years pass by, I would predict further homogenization of the market and eventually a single price for what is essentially the same commodity.  Like oil, corn and precious metals we have a demand that varies over time and the market price would fluctuate and be traded like other commodities too. In a similar way to energy, forward dated ‘futures’ contracts for processing power could be bought, sold and speculated upon as the maturity date approaches.