Technology Time Machine 2012: Beware the Physics of the Cloud


On a sunny day here in Dresden, Germany, experts at the IEEE Technology Time Machine symposium forecasted a heavy shower of cloud computing services and products in the months and years ahead.

Cloud computing is dramatically changing the way IT resources are delivered to customers, the symposium panelists agree.

Peter Magnusson, an engineering director at Google, made perhaps one of the boldest predictions about it at the symposium:

“By 2020, most computing and storage will be in the cloud, and we’ll stop calling it the cloud.”

Magnusson, referred to cloud computing as the “fourth wave” of computing following mainframes, client-servers and the Internet, and is definitely a cloud booster. “The more people use the cloud, the more they like it,” he says. In a soft but clever sales pitch, he updated his presentation with pictures, diagrams, and other data of his 5:30 a.m. run through Dresden this morning, compiled, of course, with Google cloud tools.

Joe Weinman, senior vice president at Telx, juggled two completely opposite feats that few can do in a room full of EEs: He made them laugh and delivered some deep mathematics. The point of both was to define the cloud from an economic viewpoint.

Cloudonomics” is the term Weinman coined for a rigorous way to define cloud services based on calculus, statistics, and trigonometry as well as system dynamics, economics, and computational complexity theory. For the maths, check out his work at

Dean Jacobs, chief development architect at SAP, notes that early cloud computing was billed as “clearly a TCO (total-cost-of-ownership) business case aimed at reducing costs with simple applications.” But today’s service “is focused on adding new business value.” That value, he says, comes in the form of easier deployment and integration, collaboration within and across businesses, access from multiple devices, simple customization, and better scalability.

Experts gave some warnings, too. Eric Sedlar, technical director of Oracle Labs, warns against a “hype wave” regarding the cloud. He also points to the need for “smart application developers to do deep thinking” about the cloud. Power consumption and scalability, he says, will continue to be problems, and the solutions will require greater hardware and software co-design:

“The cloud has been exploiting Internet usage growth. But physics will come back to bite us later down the road.”



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