More broadly, I’ve always been interested in the way people socialize and collaborate online. The most interesting part of cloud computing is in the network and the interaction between computers—not
in individual computers themselves.
CH: What do you see as the single most important issue affecting
cloud computing today?
BH: The network is getting exponentially faster. It’s Moore’s Law
meeting Nielsen’s Law. Not only can you pack tremendous computing
power into a mobile phone to access the cloud anywhere, but bandwidth is growing exponentially as well, roughly 50 percent per year.
And it’s starting to be available everywhere. At this point you
expect the network to be fast and always-on. Airplanes used to be
off-limits to cloud computing, but not anymore. WiFi is becoming
standard on planes. People now buy phones expecting 3G data connections—talking has become the “oh yeah” feature at the bottom of a
list of a dozen web and data features.
pens behind closed doors. The nice thing about cloud computing is that
all these service providers are so publicly accountable for even the slight-est glitch. There’s no tolerance for downtime, which is great for users.
Google’s cloud is made up of a highly resilient network of thousands and thousands of disposable computers, with apps and data
spread out on them across geographies. Gmail, for example, is replicated live across multiple datacenters, so if a meteor hits one, the app
and data keeps on running smoothly on another.
And efforts like the Data Liberation Front and Google Dashboard
make it clear that users maintain control of their data, even when
they’re using the cloud. They can take their stuff to go anytime they like,
and they can always see how the data is being used. The value to you if
you’re a cloud provider is not in locking in users’ data; rather, it’s in the
service, the flow of data, transactions, choices. Lock-in and closed formats are a losing strategy. They make you lazy as a provider. And on the
web, laziness is deadly, since competitors are a click away.
CH: Describe how much of an impact cloud computing will have in
the next evolution in computing. How will it affect the everyday computer user?
BH: This shift to cloud computing has already started invisibly for
most users. Most people use webmail without realizing it’s essentially
a “cloud” app. That may be how they start using other cloud apps. They
get invited to collaborate on a document online, and they use that doc
every day, and then another, and
one day they wake up and realize it’s
been months since they’ve opened
up their desktop software.
But it’s going to start getting
more obvious as people switch to
netbooks and smartphones, and
as they stop having to worry about
all the mechanics of backing of their discs, worrying about where they
stored something, or hassling with document versions. It’s already
making daily life more mobile and more fluid. Even the word developer
is becoming more and more synonymous with web developer. The web
is now the primary platform for building apps, not an afterthought you
hook into an app after it’s built.
Cloud computing is already changing the way businesses, governments, and universities run. The City of Los Angeles just switched to
the cloud using Google Apps. Philadelphia International Airport cuts
down on delays and costs by coordinating their operations using
Google Docs, and they’re looking at technologies like Google Wave too.
And it’s individuals, too. We hear about soldiers in the desert in
Iraq keeping in touch with their families using video chat in Gmail,
and checking their voicemail on Google Voice.
The movement away from the desktop and on-premise solutions
has been sluggish for software makers with entrenched interests on the
desktop. They’re moving so slowly compared to what users want.
These fast, lightweight, social, mobile apps are what people are actually
using to communicate with each other and get work done. They
sprouted in the cloud, they’re built to run in the cloud, and they’re now
“growing down” into big enterprises, driven by user demand.
CH: What are some of the aspects of cloud computing that you are
working on that will revolutionize the field?
BH: Everything “cloud” is really about collaboration. It’s not just a
larger computer—cloud computing gives birth to a new way of working, where the stuff you produce lives in the center of a social circle
and can be collaborated on by everyone in that circle. We’re trying to
make that collaboration process
more seamless, so sharing is easy
and you can work on stuff together without worrying about the
mechanics of version control and
invites and the like.
I’m not sure people have quite
grasped how much of computing
can and will shift to the cloud. It’s not that there isn’t ever-growing
computing power on the desktop or in beefy all-purpose servers. But
the part of computing people really care about—that developers are
developing for, and that yields the most interesting real-world applications—is the networked part. As an example, you don’t use Google
Docs to write solo reports and print them out to stick on a shelf some-where. You use it to get 10 people to hack out a plan everyone’s happy
with in one hour. It’s the networked process that’s revolutionary, not
the app used in isolation.
❝Lock-in and closed formats are a losing
strategy. They make you lazy as a provider.
And on the web, laziness is deadly, since
competitors are a click away.❞
CH: What about concerns people have voiced about trusting cloud
computing? Do you see these concerns as slowing adoption?
BH: I’d flip that on its head. The providers actually can’t keep up with
user and customer demand. They can’t build this stuff fast enough for
what people want to do in the cloud. At universities, for example, it’s
students demanding their administrators switch to Gmail. Universities
like Arizona State and Notre Dame have switched to cloud-based email,
and we’re seeing big businesses like Motorola making the switch, too.
It helps that the stats are finally starting to get out comparing apples
to apples. Desktop and on-premises applications break down far more
often than web apps, even if you don’t hear about it as often since it hap-