by Thomas Wailgum

Cloud Computing, The Great Influenza and Your Software Choices

Oct 13, 2010
Enterprise Applications

An interesting comparison exists between the emergence of modern medicine and cloud computing.

I’m currently reading John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza, a masterpiece of a book that chronicles “history’s most lethal influenza virus.” Beginning in 1918 in the United States, the plague killed as many as 100 million people across the globe.

Of note is Barry’s incisive and scathing overview of the medical establishment at the turn of the century, which got me thinking about enterprise software as I turned the pages.

It’s astounding to consider that just a hundred years ago, doctors didn’t need college degrees to attend medical school. The first time these doctors examined an actual patient was when their first patient walked through their office doors. And “bleeding a patient” was still a treatment administered by some doctors.

How chilling to appreciate what patients endured because of “standard operating procedures” back then, and then to reflect on how far medicine has come and the advances we take for granted today.

What’s that got to do with enterprise software? I keep thinking that perhaps 10 or 20 years from now we will look back on the pre-cloud computing days of enterprise software and compare it (unfavorably) to the gruesome, futile days of bleeding a sick person.

The future of computing is, in fact, already here—and it’s growing with each customer that moves more of his back-office systems to a cloud computing environment. Just look at the numbers, courtesy of Gartner:

  • Worldwide enterprise software revenue will hit $232 billion in 2010. Gartner predicts it to reach $297 billion by 2014.
  • Worldwide cloud services revenue—which includes SaaS, platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS)—will surpass $68 billion in 2010. Gartner predicts it to grow to nearly $150 billion by 2014.

So, while cloud services controls less than 30 percent of the software market today, it’s projected to own half of the market in five years.

Granted, you may make the point that Gartner might be heaving darts at the proverbial dartboard here to conjure up these numbers, and you may be right.

But those analysts see the change happening every day; they survey and talk to business users, vendors and CIOs, just like I do, who bemoan and begrudge the implementation, customization, maintenance and upgrade costs associated with traditional, on-premise software deployments.

Business-software buyers don’t want more of the same “software story” they’ve been hearing for the past 30 or 40 years. They want something better. And they want to own less of everything in their IT centers.

Can today’s cloud-based software packages satisfy all companies’ needs right now? No, of course not. But change is coming.

How do I know that? Because I’ve been hearing a lot more FUD from the non-cloud computing vendor community about cloud computing: The Cloud has burst. The Cloud is not OK for mission-critical apps. The Cloud has jumped the shark. Other vendors are playing fast and loose with the definition of “cloud computing” to satisfy their own marketing efforts. Tactics such as those will not work forever.

It reminds me of the doctors in The Great Influenza who refused to change their archaic treatment methods even when presented with clear evidence that those practices were wrong—that they were doing more harm than good.

Those doctors couldn’t be changed, and their patients needlessly suffered for it.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at