[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]
On Wednesday March 9th, I had the opportunity to talk at Cloud Connect about cloud computing, the Windows Azure platform - and I also took some time to talk about what the public cloud is along with some growing trends that will affect and shape the future of the cloud. If you're interested, you can find the deck here. In our discussions with customers and partners, there are two things that are quickly converging currently separate conversations about cloud, web, data, and mobile devices:
- Public Cloud and Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS) abstract away the complexity of infrastructure maintenance, still providing high-availability, failover, and scalability, and are open, flexible, and heterogeneous.
- The future of the web is about data - sharing it to multiple user experiences, extending it beyond the silos of the office, and deriving new insights by easily joining your data with external sources of information.
The unique opportunities that public cloud and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) bring to developers and businesses is the ability to focus specifically user experience and features that benefit users, rather than focusing on non-functional requirements like failover and high-availability. While critical to the operation of a system, users don't necessarily experience any of those benefits tangibly, except of course, if the system goes down.
A great example of a solution using the full potential of public cloud and PaaS is Eye On Earth. As a service of the European Environment Agency (EEA), it collects data from 6,000 monitoring stations across the European Union, coordinating efforts across all 32 member countries to present a centralized visualization of air and water quality to 600 million citizens. Eye On Earth also connects 600 partner organizations across research institutes, universities, ministries and agencies.
In a strictly on-premises world, solutions like this would never exist. The capital expenditures necessary to serve and maintain and infrastructure to serve 600 million people is daunting, with much of it lying idle much of the time. Additionally, with the matrix of different agencies, ministries, sharing the cost of such a solution would have been a nightmare. The economics of the cloud made this feasible. There's also the challenge of collecting and aggregating data efficiently across 6,000 remote monitoring stations. Cloud databases such as SQL Azure now make this possible. You can read more here, and see a video about it here.
With the growing reach of mobile devices everywhere, the web has evolved to more than just a mere browser experience - it is a heterogeneous mix of browser, smartphone, tablet applications and the application marketplaces. Users need applications that are more agile, robust and accessible via the web. The cloud provides the perfect platform to make this happen. In this increasingly mobile frontier, it is critical for developers to create hybrid applications and premises aware systems that are synchronized and provide multi-form factor user experiences.
Shifting gears here, to my second assertion - that the future of the web is about data. The past dozen or so years have seen the explosion of the web, and over the past few years that's evolved to include user experiences on mobile devices and tablets. What's quickly evolving is the necessity of extending data beyond user experiences - now to developers, content partners, and available via web APIs to compose n-number of variable new user experiences. Some interesting numbers to note:
- LinkedIn Founder: "Web 3.0 Will Be About Data"- Mashable, Mar 30 2011 - http://mashable.com/2011/03/30/reid-hoffman-data/
- "Smartphone shipments surpass PCs" (2010 Q4)- Financial Times, Feb 08 2011 - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/d96e3bd8-33ca-11e0-b1ed-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1DV7zJ5nj
- "Twitter Reveals: "75% of Our Traffic is via API (3 billion calls per day)"- Programmable Web, Apr 15 2010 - http://blog.programmableweb.com/2010/04/15/twitter-reveals-75-of-our-traffic-is-via-api-3-billion-calls-per-day/
- "Proliferation of Web APIs fuel the popularity of a web service...increasingly the API is the service"- Wired, Mar 08 2011 - http://www.webmonkey.com/2011/03/thousand-of-apis-paint-a-bright-future-for-the-web/
The web has evolved to more than just a browser experience; it's a heterogeneous mix of browser, smartphone, tablet applications and app-markets. The cloud has an important role to play in this evolution, by easily extending data from on-premises data sources and synchronizing it to the cloud through technologies like SQL Azure Data Sync and making it available to everyone, every developer, and every device.
Through initiatives we're taking to support open web data protocols such as OData, embracing this world of cloud data is available now, where one cloud service can power multiple experiences across web, device, and plug into existing social media and geospatial user experiences.
Industry-wide, this evolution will undoubtedly take time. It's exciting to be participating in this change, watching the transition happen, and watching how public cloud and PaaS are connecting data across the on-premises world to the web.