Tech industry players are struggling for supremacy of an estimated $100 billion hybrid platforms market, according to Bernstein Research analyst Charles DiBona. Being able to use the seeming vast storage capacity and processing power of cloud computing makes it possible for them to think of new ways of providing independent, parallel, simultaneously running applications to accelerate the processing of data, content and services. Considering how crowded the Internet is, such concurrency and capacity will be vital in facilitating and monetizing individual consumers on any device.
Jockeying for a seat at that table has intensified with Google's new partnership with Salesforce.com, which challenges Microsoft's cornerstone licensed software downloads and upgrades with Web applications. It enables the integration of virtually free Google Apps (including Gmail, spreadsheets and other productivity Docs) with Salesforce's online enterprise applications to business users as an alternative to Microsoft Windows. It mirrors Google's marketplace enterprise apps for individual users, built on its dominant Internet-based search and advertising.
The cloud computing battle is also behind Microsoft's $45 billion bid for Yahoo, which provides the additional advertising and search weapons to defend its mainstream software and business model from being trounced by what could prove to be Google's disruptive technology. Microsoft and Yahoo are researching and developing their own cloud computing plans.
The way experts explain it resembles J. R. R. Tolkien's battle for Middle Earth--with micronetworks, operating systems, developers, and networking companies and their protocols scrambling to make faster, more lucrative connections between consumers, rich data banks, service providers and advertisers.
Although not new, cloud computing is intensifying as the next level of interactive play. Apple's long-running Macintosch operating system challenge to Microsoft Windows OS is being spurred by the wild popularity of its iPhones and iPods to take its content and related services to an iTunes cloud. Amazon has quietly moved into high gear, offering companies to tap into its vast cloud computing capabilities, data center and storage. Clients use and pay as they go rather than develop and maintain their own costly infrastructure. Some analysts predict that it could exceed Amazon's e-retailing business.
"We have the potential for an epic struggle for the chokepoint of the evolving paradigm with, on the one hand, the likes of Cisco in particular coming up form underneath while Microsoft, Google, Apple, Salesforce.com, and a handful of other software vendors attack from above," DiBona explains. In the end, the "cloud" will be a concentrated oligopoly ruled by networking giants like Google and operating systems giants like Microsoft --and maybe a new entrant that emerges out of nowhere.
The eventual disaggregating of servers would end the iron fist rule of the Windows computing interface, and assure the ability for any job to run on any server or core that can connect to any memory. Such structural interchangeability will massively simplify the access, sharing and monetization of content, data and services, the experts say. The ramifications of cloud computing will touch everyone and every company that uses the Internet today.
As Google (in alignment with Salesforce.com) and Microsoft begin rolling out their cloud computing implementations and open the boundaries to third-party developers and pooled resources, the battle will come down to one objective. The goal will be to establish and maintain a hybrid platform as the foundation of a new service-oriented, concurrent computing paradigm. It will allow for multiple applications to simultaneously develop, deploy, communicate and exploit the interactive connections and data between consumers, clients and service providers, DiBona explains.
He estimates that Microsoft could snare nearly one-third of the estimated $100 billion hybrid platform-related revenues by 2010, based on the stake it already has in the PC-centric applications game. The remainder is Google's and everyone else's for the taking.
Why is all this layman's science fiction important? The massive searchable databases maintained by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others "turbocharged with billions of Madison Avenue mad money for targeted advertisements," are morphing into giant general purpose computing platforms that will be the entrance to all interactivity, explains tech guru George Gilder. These same players understand that their "past performance does not guarantee future returns," Gilder explained in a Wired essay. Google understood better than others early on that clever software, cheap computers working parallel to perform "petascale tasks--like searching everything Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com, and others could shovel onto the Net," would not be enough. "Google appears to have attained one of the holy grails of computing science: a scalable massively parallel architecture that can readily accommodate diverse software," Gilder explains. That gives Google the same size--if not bigger--chair as Microsoft at the Cloud Computing table.
To a world gone mad with interactivity, boring into the depth of the Internet on one hand and still struggling with analog to digital convergence on the other, this might all seem a bit distant. It's not. Those third-party developers with access to Google tools and platform, the giants battling for control of the cyber-sky, may solve today's pesky problems of accountability and measurability, ultimate personalization and extreme shopping without credit cards, people meters or computers. That's a smackdown I'd buy tickets to.