Final Analysis: Seattle is home of 'The Cloud'

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

OK, so the joke about Seattle as the ideal home of “the cloud” is already a cliché. Excuse me for being late to the weather forecast. But when California-based Google announced in March that it planned to add about a thousand jobs to its Kirkland satellite campus, which already employs 1,000 Google-ites (Googleoids? Googleans?), I started wondering how big this cumulonimbus of ours is going to get, and if there could ever be such a thing as “too cloudy” in Seattle.

A few months ago, a story in The Wall Street Journal reported that Google, Microsoft and Amazon are vying for dominance in the cloud. The Journal quoted Bill Coughran, a former SVP of engineering at Google, as saying, “The great tech wars are expanding into nearly every area of business, and cloud services are the latest battlefield. Amazon has captured the hearts and minds of developers, but Google and Microsoft are gaining ground.”

Elsewhere, in the pages of this very magazine, columnist Bill Virgin waxes nostalgic as he wonders what some modern companies actually make. “Thanks to a newly emerging trend,” Virgin writes, “one driven in part by companies from these parts, the response to the question of what a company does is akin to the answer Marlon Brando provided in The Wild One when asked what he was rebelling against: ‘What’ve ya got?’”

The intersection of Coughran’s statement with Virgin’s declaration is an apt destination for anyone looking to get a GPS fix on exactly what Seattle will be famous for in, say, 20 years. Forget airplanes. Forget coffee. Forget software and retail. We are—or at least we’re becoming—the cloud city.

What does it all mean? Should we be laying in extra stores of Vitamin D? More umbrellas?

Don’t be silly. We all know the cloud isn’t a meteorological phenomenon.

It is simply this … this … this place where all of our electronic business stays until we need it. And then we push a button and it shows up again. Or something like that. And if you think Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the only players in cloud services, you’re not paying attention. In fact, if your own business isn’t into offering cloud services yet, you may want to plead guilty to incompetence, or at least a serious lack of cultural hipness.

The cloud’s exact location has been a closely guarded secret for some time. But with so many Puget Sounders engaged in cloudy activities, it’s readily apparent that the cloud is situated somewhere between Everett and Enumclaw. And, as cloud-services purveyors slash their prices to woo more clients, it’s obvious that the cloud’s economic impact will be lasting and far-reaching. The Wall Street Journal even notes that Google, Amazon and Microsoft are “poaching employees from one another” in this cloud-seeding frenzy.

The sky, as they say, is the limit in this sector of the economy. We are a convenience-first society, after all, one that adores the idea of letting somebody else take care of all that technological stuff for us, no matter the cost or risk. Right now, “public cloud” services generate an estimated $40 billion worldwide in annual revenue, with Amazon commanding about 70 percent of that pie.

Inevitably, this competition to be king of the cloud will result in more services being offered to more clients. And, whereas Mick Jagger felt strongly that two was a crowd on his cloud, there seems to be no perceptible limit to how many people can fit on ours.

 

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

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