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New Decade Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Tarballs

There's a front moving in and it looks like long overdue drought relief. Keep your umbrella handy--it looks like a virtual deluge.

It didn’t take long for server virtualization to reach new heights in the past couple of years with the revival of what’s now known as “cloud computing.” The innovators, imitators and duplicators have busied themselves in creating a completely new computing niche. Actually, it’s an old computing niche repackaged with a boldface type sticker that reads, “New and Improved.” The difference this time around is that Linux, yes Linux, takes the niche for a new ride. It’s Linux-based cloud computing coming soon to a vendor near you. Hence my forecast for the new decade: Cloudy with a chance of tarballs.

The forecast brightens as the new year opens up for business. 2010 and beyond promises to rain a bit more prosperity on us than we’ve all seen in a while and it’s not a moment too soon. My business climate predictions aren’t based upon incantations involving goose bones, persimmon seeds, pig spleens, woolly bear caterpillars or even sunspots—they’re based on the observation of business cycles.

In the Almanac

Anyone who predicts the future, relies on the past for those predictions. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, in people, in animals, in weather and in business. When I owned my own computer consulting business, I knew that, with absolute certainty, mid-March to mid-April and almost the entire month of October were going to show lower than average sales. It was something I had to plan for and work around each year. That business cycle changed the way I did business and helped me maintain my payroll obligations, support for my clients, my sanity and my bank account. Without noticing that cycle, my business would have suffered severe financial crises every year.

Looking backward through time, you’ll see similar business cycles on a larger scale. Economic recessions, depressions, booms and busts all follow a pattern. Using this pattern, business analysts make educated forecasts about recession length, depth and severity. They also make forecasts concerning recovery from those economic downturns.

These patterns of business now point to large scale recovery. In the technology sector, Linux, virtualization and cloud computing provide the virtual vehicle for that recovery. Any way you look at it; virtualization is a game-changer. It is a disruptive technology whose adoption will usher in a new age of technology-driven prosperity. My predictions for this new age of prosperity come in two flavors: short-range and long range.

Short-range Forecast

The short-range forecast covers the period between the fourth quarter 2009 through the first quarter 2012. The upsurge experienced in the fourth quarter 2009 will continue into the new year and for the next several quarters. Cautious business executives will rework their budgets to accommodate the internal shift to virtualization (perhaps even VDI) and the shift outward to cloud computing. More businesses will seek consulting services in their quests to move into these uncharted virtual environments. Virtualization vendors, third-party virtualization software companies and virtualization-savvy consulting businesses will experience steep-trajectory growth in the coming year.

This business growth will begin a new cycle of low unemployment for skilled technical workers. New business start-ups will consume the remaining unemployed and displaced masses.

Most of the business growth and business start-ups will leverage Linux and other so-called open source software projects. This time, though, “dot com” businesses will start and thrive in non-Silicon Valley locations providing a more widespread recovery to historically non-technical regions. Technical folk who’ve made the exodus from high cost, high tech areas of the country will spring up in lower cost locations to capitalize on their newfound frugality.

Long-range Forecast

My long-range forecast spans for the entire 2010 to 2019 decade. If you’re a technical person, cloud computing will show up everywhere—every form of media that you can imagine. You’ll soon experience cloud overload. Cloud computing will soon usurp trans fat as the new “it” thing that everyone talks about but few understand. Unlike other “it” things from our past, like Y2K, cloud computing will remain for the long-term.

No company will eclipse Amazon’s presence as the world’s premier cloud computing provider in the near future. The large IT service companies will form their own cloud offerings, which will spark a price war until lowered pricing creates a new commoditized utility compute environment that anyone can afford. Value-added services, not price, will differentiate one vendor from another in the cloud computing space.

Cloud services will build on Linux-based virtualization technologies to further maximize profitability, lower costs, decrease maintenance and allow remote management of resources, users and workloads. Smaller niche cloud providers will arise as rapidly as ISPs did during the mid-1990s. These niche providers will give you every manner of hosting options: CMSs, office applications, development environments, accounting systems, traditional websites, mail, teleconferencing, virtual machines, backups and full virtual offices.

Cloud computing isn’t just here for a season to vanish in the wake of some cooler technology; it’s here to stay. We might call it something different after a few years but Linux-based cloud computing is now part of our lives. In the future, all computing will take place on some sort of cloud infrastructure. But, cloud computing isn’t limited to Linux-based systems. You’ll see Windows-based cloud providers, FreeBSD cloud providers and even Mac OS cloud providers spring from the ashes of traditional computing. The majority of cloud computing, however, will take place on Linux-based technology.

Take an umbrella with you, the forecast is cloudy with a chance of tarballs.

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