The ubiquitous cloud computing craze may not be long for this world if venture capitalist Peter Levine is right. The Andreessen Horowitz general partner said that as more computing capabilities move to so-called "edge" devices, including anything from driverless cars and drones to the boundless devices that make up the internet of things (IoT), the cloud will slowly evaporate.
"A large portion of computation that gets done in the cloud today will return to the edge," said Levine at the Wall Street Journal's CIO Network event here Tuesday.
Levine said the driverless car, whose 200-plus CPUs effectively make it a "data center on wheels," is a prime example of an edge device whose computing capabilities must be self-contained. Levine said that an autonomous vehicle relying on the cloud for data would blow through stop signs and crash because of the latency associated with transmitting data from the car to the cloud. The cloud will also cripple many scenarios for machine learning, which relies on speedy computing to deliver faster decision-making.
Edge computing is less a novelty than perhaps the next computing cycle, Levine said. Decades ago most computing was centralized in mainframes, with banks and most other large enterprise relying on the refrigerator-sized cabinets to manage their business operations.
Many mainframes were decommissioned to make room for the decentralized client-server era. The cloud is essentially the new mainframe hosted in a vendor's data center. If the natural ebb and flow of computing holds, the edge will accelerate the next leg of distributed computing. And that means the cloud "goes away in the not-too-distant future," Levine said.
Disrupting the disrupters
It's a scary proposition for the thousands of vendors hawking cloud services. For the past decade, Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and others have stood up applications, infrastructure, storage and virtually every conceivable type of computing task imaginable as a service. But a venture capitalist’s job is to take a broader, longer view so that they can see what innovations are coming next. Levine is essentially saying the cloud disruptors will be disrupted in the next five to 10 years.
Diana McKenzie, CIO of cloud business application provider Workday, isn’t buying the "provocative point" that the cloud will disappear. She said it will co-exist with the edge. For example, McKenzie said that companies will want to aggregate data collected from edge devices in a cloud for analysis and, ideally, business insights.
"I can't imagine there will ever not be a place for cloud computing," McKenzie tells CIO.com. "The challenge for us as CIOs is to make sure we're thinking about it more on a continuum than on a black and white basis. Then the next challenge is how you architect for that."