Ten years after the birth of the cloud, Box, Dropbox (News - Alert) and other early cloud-based platforms are starting to reap the rewards of their efforts. Box just filed for its IPO and looks poised to take on the enterprise giants of the Fortune 500, while Dropbox is basking in a $10 billion valuation.
While it may look like the glory days for the cloud, these early movers have likely peaked and may go the way of video stores and compact discs if they don’t evolve. They simply weren’t designed to handle the volumes of data that assault businesses today and, according to storage provider SanDisk (News - Alert), business data is growing faster than ever, doubling every 1.2 years.
A new abstraction layer is poised to reform the cloud space, bringing integration, workflow and intelligence to these legacy systems. After struggling to extract ROI from the first-generation cloud, users will see payoff from the next iteration—and it’s about time.
Hunting for Files, Folders and ROI
Cloud storage today doesn’t address the most fundamental need that users have: how to get the most out of existing information. The ability to stash content in folders and access it anywhere spurred initial adoption, but now users are scratching their heads as to how these systems provide real ROI. IT arm-wrestles with uploads and permissions, content drowns inside of systems not designed to scale, and teams must cross-navigate different repositories in order to find a single document.
As it turns out, cloud storage simply virtualized the overflowing file cabinet. Despite having access to several file systems at once, workers still can’t find anything. The typical user wastes up to 10 hours per week searching for information or reinventing content that is already stored somewhere else, according to research by IDC. Each document repository comes with a different user interface, a unique way of storing files and folders and different permissions — all of which amounts to time wasted.
The root of the problem is that cloud storage systems are designed with hierarchical file systems. These archaic structures are fundamentally unaligned with the quantity of content that exists today. They were built for a time when information overload came from singular events, like adding a large new customer, not the unrelenting data streams that assault the business today. With an influx of structured and unstructured data from sources such as video, social media, sensors and mobile devices, the volume of business content is staggering.
Everyone keeps using cloud storage because it’s sticky, and thus far, few good alternatives have been presented… until now.
Say Goodbye to the Hand-Cranked Cloud
The time is ripe for the cloud to grow another layer of abstraction. This layer will add intelligence to the cloud, enabling users to drive more economic value out of existing storage investments. Cloud players and third parties will innovate up the stack in order to solve the “I can’t find it” problem that costs enterprises thousands of hours per year. Workflow, business intelligence and social add-ons will let users streamline how they process documents.
This new cloud will grow the ability to think for itself. No longer is the ability to simply store files online an entirely revolutionary proposition. Instead, burgeoning cloud services must fulfill the promise of the cloud to truly scale, both in storage and capability. Current file structures and practices are not scalable, at the most basic level, and need to be left where they belong—in the past.
We've already seen the promise of the cloud fulfilled in other realms. Services like Heroku take legacy structures, such as the servers running apps, and virtualize them. They take the job of provisioning and managing servers and turn it into automated tasks. Push a key, and your server power is doubled, in real time.
While the same could be said for cloud storage — you don't need to bring on new physical drives — the real problem point here is not storage, but access. What good is it to offer unlimited file storage when you can’t ever find what you need?
The next step in the business of cloud storage will be to give users a way not to just expand storage limitations, but to free them entirely from archaic file structures and provide intelligent tools to help them surface content and extract true value.
Businesses must recognize that the frustration of the current cloud is a limited phenomenon. They may have to settle for less now, but not for much longer.
Edited by Maurice Nagle