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Pushing the Cloud From Madison Avenue to Main Street

By Jeffrey M. Kaplan
Feb 11, 2011 5:00 AM PT

When the concept of "cloud computing" first began to gain attention within the technology industry, I have to admit that I was convinced that it was one of the worst terms ever created. What's harder to get your arms, or head, around than a cloud? Talk about an amorphous idea.

Pushing the Cloud From Madison Avenue to Main Street

Don't get me wrong. I have thoroughly believed in the functional potential of the cloud computing idea since we first started calling it "utility computing." In fact, I bet my business on the potential business benefits when I founded THINKstrategies in 2001 to help clients capitalize on the transformation of the technology industry from a product-centric to a service-driven delivery model.

Back then, most people doubted this potential in the wake of the dot-com bust. A pile of failed application service providers (ASPs) represented further proof that the tech industry didn't know how to deliver cost-effective and compelling service solutions.

So it wasn't a surprise that the utility computing idea also failed to gain traction, because the major tech companies and a slew of startups dwelled on the bits and bites of costly new systems and solutions, rather than on providing a new generation of simpler and more economical services.

There's Gold in Them Thar Clouds

Enter Salesforce.com and the birth of Software as a Service (SaaS) out of the embers of the ASP demise. Its success and the explosive growth of SaaS encouraged Amazon to introduce its own revolutionary computing services, commercializing the infrastructure that already powered its e-commerce capabilities. So was born the cloud computing movement.

Despite the fact that there is still plenty of debate about how to define "cloud computing," nearly every market research firm and industry survey suggests that a vast majority of corporate decision makers intend to adopt some form of cloud computing in the coming year or two.

Yet it is worth remembering that the cloud computing idea has not only been generally accepted with a universally accepted definition, it has also gained broad-based acceptance with minimal traditional marketing.

It is estimated that Amazon Web Services (AWS) generated upwards of US$750 million dollars with limited advertising or marketing. I challenge you to find any ads for Google Apps. And though Salesforce.com has only advertised sporadically, it has still grown to over $1 billion.

Now that the overall viability of the cloud computing idea has been proven by a rapidly expanding assortment of customer success stories, the "cloud rush" is on, and the advertising wars have begun.

Telling the Cloud Story

IBM launched its cloud ad campaign about a year ago.

While its ads were generally accepted because of their appeal to corporate decision makers, Microsoft's more recent "To the Cloud" advertisements generated far more controversy in the tech industry because its simplified interpretation of the meaning of "cloud computing" seemed to be aimed primarily at consumers and small businesses, and barely scratched the surface of its full business value and implications.

Last weekend, Salesforce.com launched its own advertising campaign with a pair of expensive ads bookending the Super Bowl half-time show to promote its new Chatter.com service, which I tend to refer to as "Facebook for business."

Although the Salesforce.com ads will not be as memorable as Apple's historic '1984' Super Bowl ad, they will certainly push greater consumerization of IT.

Just as Apple's Super Bowl ad popularized a new way of thinking about personal computing, today's cloud-oriented ads are promoting a new way of thinking about corporate computing.

Now, the challenge is for every SaaS and cloud vendor to fulfill the expectations Madison Avenue is setting for Main Street IT and business decision makers.

Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies and founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace. He can be reached at jkaplan@thinkstrategies.com.

How do you feel about digital immortality through an artificial intelligence avatar?
I'd like to have my own mind uploaded to an avatar after death.
I'd like to interact with avatars of dead relatives and friends.
Avatars should be created for important historic figures only.
I'd be interested in seeing avatars of dead entertainers perform.
I'm concerned about the ethics -- legal limits should be in place.
The idea is creepy, and I don't approve at all.
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