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Forecasts scream huge growth rates for cloud but in the big picture it is tiny. Max Planck noted: “Science advances one funeral at a time.” Is cloud the same?

The demand for public cloud infrastructure (IaaS) is expected to grow a whopping 36.8% this year to $34.6 billion in revenue worldwide, according to a new forecast from Gartner. Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud is also forecast to grow a very healthy 20.1% to reach $46.3 billion. Together we are looking at almost $81B in cloud spend this year – impressive.

But, let’s step back a bit and get a bigger picture. Let’s pick on Gartner again (but any of the usual pundits will demonstrate similar data). In another recent forecast, Gartner projects that in 2017 worldwide IT spending will be $3.5 Trillion! This is a pretty breathtaking number. But, look at what it reveals. Spending on the cloud is only about 2% of the total.

Cloud has been around for at least ten years for IaaS and eighteen years for SaaS. Why is something like cloud – that it is obviously better/best than the old way – not spreading even faster? Look at ten years of smartphone market dissemination. It’s ten years old and it has penetrated over 80% of the US market. How about the adoption of tablets at work, which got a little later start? By 2017 the forecast is for a 95% penetration rate. What’s holding cloud back?

Perhaps we can find the answer in the wisdom of the great physicist, Max Planck. First, a little context: at the end of the 19th century physicists thought they had nature pretty well understood. There were some details to clean up but scientists thought they had things pretty much figured out. They were wrong. All was about to be disrupted.

Noble prize winning Planck was one of the pioneers of one of those disruptions – quantum mechanics. In fact, we now call a fundamental constant of the universe: “Planck’s constant”. In another honor, we call the smallest unit of space a “Planck’s length”. Quantum mechanics really shook up the prevailing established view. Reality was not certain. Particles popped into existence and obliterated randomly. Cats could be dead and alive at once. For the establishment, this went down real hard as it flew in the face of conventional wisdom and even common sense.

In this clash of ideas, Planck is noted for his famous quote. Simply put, he meant: A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Cloud is really shaking up the world of information technology. The new ways of doing things just feel wrong and seem to fly in the face of 50 years of hard learned practice. David Linthicum demonstrates the analogy in IT to Planck’s observation. He recently wrote of his experience as a cloud computing consultant in InfoWorld:

“Why do cloud projects fail? Why does cloud technology not meet expectations? Why are security models not transferable to the cloud? How did you end up with performance issues that can’t be fixed? The answer is usually this: resistance from your colleagues.

The overwhelming issues that I run into when helping clients move to cloud computing are never the technology — those issues are easily fixed. It’s the people issues.”

Some of the resistance arises from perceived threats and the need to master new skills and technologies. Many of these can be addressed through education and good management but for some legacy IT staff… well, perhaps we should paraphrase Plank’s quote as: “Cloud advances one retirement at a time.” What are you seeing?

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