One of the nice things about following cloud technologies and virtualization? It's never boring, especially given how new cloud technologies are. That means that there's plenty of room for change, and ample speculation about where the industry is going. While we usually spend time reporting on what's just happened and the impact it will have in the near future, the end of the year gives us an opportunity to pull out the crystal ball and think about what's coming in the year ahead. In short, my forecast for 2012 calls for consolidation, continued domination of Amazon Web Services and scattered patent suits.

Patent Nastiness

One of the biggest disappointments for me in the 12-plus years that I've been writing about technology is the increasing amount of time and attention that one has to devote to patent lawsuits. Unfortunately, that trend doesn't seem to be reversing itself.

A quick, cursory search for "cloud" in just the title of patent claims shows more than 181 hits. (Though, to be fair, some of them are unrelated to cloud services – like this one.)

The "good" news is that the major players may have little to gain from suing each other, since they all have major patent portfolios. The bad news is that patent trolls have nothing to lose from suing Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, Rackspace or any of the other companies doing business in the cloud. I expect to start seeing some shakedowns around cloud-related patents in 2012.

Storage Shortage

It's no secret that there's a growing shortage in hard drives, which is driving prices up and causing major problems for suppliers.

What hasn't been discussed much is the effect on providers like Amazon, Rackspace, Google and others that consume a lot of hardware. Expect them to take a slight hit, and look for prices for cloud storage to hold steady if not increase.

It's the APIs, Stupid

While OpenStack has gotten quite a bit of attention since its debut in 2010, it's actually not in widespread use. And if the project doesn't change its position on APIs, it may stay that way. As OpenStack matures, a big part of the real competition between OpenStack and Amazon Web Services will be in getting developer support for the APIs. Going forward, OpenStack is planning to deprecate the API support for EC2 "because it does not help OpenStack long term to maintain Amazon EC2 APIs over its own."

This is an unfortunate and probably foolish move on the part of the OpenStack project. It doesn't serve the industry well, and attempting to force developers to choose may have the unintended effect of slowing OpenStack adoption.

OpenStack supporters have drawn parallels between OpenStack and Linux, and there are several. Like Linux, OpenStack has gotten widespread industry support and could become the commodity operating system for the cloud. (So to speak.) However, unlike Linux, the OpenStack project is trying to "win" by not playing well with others.

One of the reasons that Linux has succeeded so wildly is that it was a drop-in replacement for other operating systems, or very nearly so. It was UNIX-like enough that it won over UNIX admins and developers, because it had the additional advantage of being open. The OpenStack project is throwing away a potential advantage by refusing to be AWS compatible, and I suspect that's going to bite them in the posterior in 2012.

Mark Shuttleworth had a post worth reading in September, comparing cloud APIs to HTTP. Says Shuttleworth, "cloud infrastructure is looking for its HTTP. I think that standard already exists in de facto form today at AWS, with EC2, S3 and some of the credential mechanisms being essentially the core primitives of cloud infrastructure management." There's room for innovation in implementation (just as there has been with Apache, IIS and Nginx to name a few) innovation at the protocol/API layer? Not so much. "I'm of the view that any projects which try to do so will fail and are not worth spending your or my time on. They are going to be about as successful as projects that try to reinvent HTTP to make it better/faster/cleaner/whatever."

"All the proprietary and ad-hoc things that preceded HTTP have died, and good riddance," says Shuttleworth. "Similarly, cloud infrastructure will converge around a standard API which will be imperfect but real. Innovation is all about how that API is implemented, not which API it is."

I doubt that not adopting AWS APIs will be fatal for OpenStack, but it's going to be painful in terms of adoption. The Eucalyptus folks get that AWS is the standard and that they can co-exist with AWS because Amazon doesn't seem at all likely to get into the business of on-premise software, so I'd look for that company to have a pretty good 2012.

Acquisition Targets

It's not hard to predict that some companies in the cloud space will be picked up in 2012, but it's a little harder to guess which ones. Here's my list of companies that I think are likely to be picked up in 2012.

  • Nginx
  • Cloudera
  • Hortonworks
  • Joyent

Note that this isn't all-inclusive, so when we look back at the end of 2012 and all of these companies remain independent, I'll take my lumps. But I'm not saying I've predicted all the companies that might be acquired, because my crystal ball just isn't that finely tuned. If it was, I'd be too busy winning the lottery every week to make any technology predictions.

So that's my list for 2012: What's yours? What do you think is going to happen in 2012 in the world of tech? I'm particularly interested in thoughts around cloud and virtualization, but if you've got some predictions on other tech, let's hear those too.