There is a truism about all disruptive innovations: when they are first introduced to the market, they almost always appear like their predecessor technology. It is only after a disruptive innovation has fully matured and customers are familiar with it that we see its true form. It is then that we realize the real disruptive potential of a new technology and its impact on our industry. I like to call these the 1.0 and 2.0 versions, and am always on the lookout for the transition between the two.

On Digital Cameras

To illustrate the difference between the 1.0 and 2.0 of a disruptive innovation, let’s take a look at digital photography. If you are old enough to have seen the first digital cameras, they came with a form factor and features almost identical to film based cameras. As a result, the disruptive innovation of digital photography often felt like an incremental improvement on existing cameras to their early adopters. While the advantages of digital cameras were compelling - e.g. unlimited pictures, instant access to photos, ability to directly manipulate images - they did not fundamentally change the way we saw the world around us.

But if you look at how digital photography evolved over the next few years, the 2.0 version would eventually emerge. Today digital photography is in our smartphones, our laptops, our Alexas, our smart glasses, our social media, and more. It has resulted in changing the way we view our world, how we communicate, and how we share and preserve knowledge. The 1.0 version of digital photography provided us a better camera, but the 2.0 version changed our lives.

The 1.0 Cloud

Early innovators in the cloud such as Salesforce and Microsoft initially launched services based almost exclusively upon platform services, that were primarily targeted at green field application development. But in 2007, Amazon pioneered the 1.0 version of the cloud with its S3 and then EC2 services. As disruptive as the features of consumption based pricing and on demand infrastructure were, the appeal of AWS was its familiarity with the predecessor technologies - e.g. data centers, hosting, and virtualization. In fact, the de-facto functional specification that became known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was pioneered and popularized by Amazon, and then later copied by its competitors. But if you look at IaaS, it is really an incremental innovation on top of type 1 hypervisors, which were introduced to the market in 2001 and popularized by VMware. In other words, IaaS was the 1.0 version of a disruptive innovation, offering us only a glimpse of the potential of the cloud.

The 2.0 Cloud

But as with all disruptive technologies, the cloud has not remained at its 1.0 version. The real disruption was always further up the stack in the platform services - e.g. functions as a service, machine learning services, on-demand data stores, and more. The reason IaaS was embraced early was due to its connection to the predecessor technologies. There was no need to re-architect and rewrite applications to support IaaS, and you had access to all the existing software frameworks, tools and open source that had been built for a pre-cloud world.

But the applications of tomorrow will not run on operating systems (at least not ones visible to and managed by us). Instead application will be written by adding business logic on top of highly configurable and fully managed services from cloud providers. Eventually these applications will increasingly leverage multiple cloud provides, building composable applications that due to micro service architectures will finally be free from the gravity of data and cost of network traffic, freely mixing PaaS and SaaS to maximize the time spent on delivering business value. Eventually the 2.0 cloud will spawn a rapid increase in innovation in platform services, allowing numerous third parties to compete with the Big Cloud providers in delivering best of breed platform services to the market, and eventually even spawning new innovation via micro-SaaS services.

Last Thoughts

As cloud computing reaches its 13th year of evolution, we are in the midst of a transition from its 1.0 to 2.0 versions. This transition will be incredibly disruptive to the technology businesses, and will also roll like a tsunami across all industries, forcing them to adapt or perish in the transformation. The 2.0 cloud will change how we plan, architect, design, deploy, manage and operate business services for decades to come, and will herald the demise of the client-server model, which has put operating systems as the foundation upon which we deliver business services.

As with all changes from a 1.0 to a 2.0 of a disruptive technology, these changes will take longer, be harder, and will have a more pervasive impact that we can all imagine today. So strap on your seat belt and prepare yourself for the 2.0 cloud.