We risk becoming citizens of new cloud empires

Cloud giants are battling to control new empires. Read about these battles, and about whether we might become citizens of these empires.



The rise of cloud computing has led to hyperscale providers–i.e., companies that provide more computing services than has ever been possible. The cloud giants are battling for control at every layer of the technology stack, and the winners will become the new cloud empires.

Think about it: Did you become part of the Samsung empire when you bought your smartphone? When you moved your servers to Microsoft Windows Azure, did you become their citizen?

Hyperscale cloud providers are empires.

The biggest cloud providers are enormous. For instance, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google App Engine, HP Public Cloud, Rackspace, and Windows Azure are either huge in their own right (AWS turned over $3.8 billion in 2013) or are backed by huge companies (HP has approximately 331,800 employees). The hyperscale cloud providers spread across national borders and fight for market share. These providers have massive resources of money, employees, and equipment.

You are a citizen in a cloud empire.

Powerful companies are fighting each other to grab land in the new cloud world. If you think of the hyperscale providers as empires, you are a citizen in a totalitarian state. All your interactions with technology are turned into data and fed into algorithms, making your life transparent.

Cloud scale has accelerated the monitoring of users. If you have a smartphone, your movement is being logged. If you have a Facebook account, everyone you associate with has been tagged. Your email is scanned, your ISP redirects your data, and advertisers track your web surfing.

Power rests at the center, not with you. Market forces dictate the actions of the cloud empires, and they in turn dictate your actions. Perhaps you are a developer and the Google App Engine matters to you, but it's a one-way relationship–how much do you matter to Google?

Business battles in the network layer

Hardware and networking, the base of all IT, is being centralized into huge data centers around the world. Amazon and Rackspace are fighting over off-premise computing–both companies want your organization to switch off its computer rooms and use their managed hosting instead.

Despite the vast expense of commissioning these new cloud data center warships, they don't get much media coverage. Every new cloud terminal, on the other hand (i.e., your smartphone), generates vast coverage.

Hardware isn't just about servers in data centers; for every server, there are many clients, and the future of cloud clients is mobile. Controlling the mobile OS is a moneymaker and enables the monitoring of all the citizens of the cloud empire. The dozen sensors in your smartphone (camera, microphone, accelerometer, etc.) constantly measure where you are and what you are doing.

Battles in the OS layer

The OS is turning into a battle between Microsoft and a few Linux distributions. All the UNIX distros are gone, and BSD remains a small kingdom. Microsoft holds the most on-premise space with Microsoft Server, but it is slowly losing ground to the advancing Linux distributions. Ubuntu and Red Hat are fighting over on-premise computing–they want your organization to run their hybrid management tools and versions of OpenStack. Google and Microsoft are fighting to get Android or Windows onto your smartphone. 

Battles in the application layer

The application space is split between the closed applications and the open ones. For instance, Oracle's closed relational database still rules the enterprise, but cloud scale is powered by the open NoSQL applications.

Is this true?

The business battles between competing cloud companies are certainly true, and there are parallels with past ages of empires; there is even a risk we could become citizens of new cloud empires. Our modern life requires cloud computing, so the controllers of the clouds could therefore control us. We are on that road already; these are some ways our actions are eroding privacy and freedom of choice.

  • The government erodes the privacy of its citizens using Patriot Act orders and PRISM surveillance.
  • We weaken our employers by handing over business critical systems and sensitive data to cloud providers.
  • We expose ourselves by handing over private information to companies and allowing them to constantly monitor us.

The big cloud providers are not empires, and we still have privacy and freedom of choice. We don't live in AWS-funded housing or send our children to Azure-sponsored schools.

We are building a better, faster, and cheaper IT world using cloud computing. As long as we retain our rights and don't accidentally give them all away, the cloud providers will serve us rather than the other way around.

Do you agree that the controllers of the clouds could control us? Share your thoughts about the rise of the cloud empires in the discussion.

Note: TechRepublic, ZDNet, and CBS News are CBS properties.