Following on from the bold assertion that 20% of IT departments would have no need for physical assets by 2012, Gartner have now turned their attention to the future of the Personal Computer. According to their research, “the Personal Cloud Will Replace the Personal Computer as the Center of Users’ Digital Lives by 2014“.

There is plenty of evidence of the truth of this already and the adoption of Drop Box, Google Docs, iTunes, iCloud, and a myriad mobile-centered iPhone apps has demonstrated the huge demand for always-on, always-connected mobile services.

Consumers, who also happen to be bosses and employees, are increasingly tech-savvy and their expectations are moving beyond what corporate IT departments can meet with existing infrastructure and skill sets. Users’ expectations of rapid change have been ameliorated somewhat by infrastructure technologies such as virtualization, which has improved IT’s operational agility, but the growing availability of consumer-centric mobile apps has led to a disconnect between what’s available in the consumer space and what companies provision for their staff. The lack of application development skills or a general understanding of the wider ramifications of mobile is becoming a visible weakness for many organizations.

Not surprisingly, employees take what’s available in the consumer world and bend it to their needs, often working around the compliance and security requirements of their employers and the command and control mindset of enterprise IT.

The recent Amazon outage has created some heated discussion as to whether Amazon’s services are enterprise ready or not. Much of the discussion seems to miss the point. For example, saying that Amazon is not enterprise-class is like saying an IBM x-server is not enterprise-class. Not very helpful and not very meaningful.

Amazon is a provider of compute and storage, like the aforementioned server. Give that server RAID direct-attached-storage, or dual-homing to a SAN, power from two UPSs and a mirror image of itself in another data center and you can perform synchronization between the two. Lo and behold, enterprise-class computing!

This can all be achieved with Amazon using different ‘Availability Zones’ in more than one Region and the appropriate software. And of course there is an associated price.

The reality is that the majority of Amazon’s clients are startups (many in the social networking space) that are willing to take the risk (or don’t comprehend it) in return for scalability, agility and above all the right price. Another significant group of clients are enterprises in search of cheap, agile compute for problems requiring mass horizontal scalability, but not persistence.

The really fascinating question behind this outage is the economic one, i.e. what level of risk/cost ratio are companies willing to tolerate for Information Technology.

Countless small enterprises that make heavy use of IT don’t have diesel backup and rely on their electrical utility to provide adequate uptime… sans SLA I might add. This is exactly the calculation that anyone using Amazon and its ilk is making–whether they are aware of it or not.

The cloud is all about economics—as are public electrical utilities—and we are in an important phase in the ongoing maturation of Information Technology: a field who’s economics have long been cloudy (pun intended) to say the least.

Randy Bias at CloudScaling has put together some interesting metrics on Amazon’s release cycle for the EC2 platform. The implication being that Amazon is growing its investment in EC2 at a significant rate to ensure it further enhances its already significant leadership position.

Based on prior years activity, Randy estimates 66 feature releases this year: or more than one per week.

EC2 feature release rate

He has also published the source data in a Google Doc and it makes fascinating reading.

Clearly Amazon want to stay on the crest of the cloud computing wave and they recognize that providing superior functionality is going to be critical to defend against a growing array of competition—-all of whom are presently tiny in comparison but still have the potential to compete on feature set, particularly in the enterprise IT and public/private cloud space.

Elastic Utility Computing Architecture for Linking Your Programs To Useful Systems – is an open-source software infrastructure for implementing “cloud computing” on clusters. The current interface to EUCALYPTUS is compatible with Amazon’s EC2 interface, but the infrastructure is designed to support multiple client-side interfaces. EUCALYPTUS is implemented using commonly available Linux tools and basic Web-service technologies making it easy to install and maintain.

via Eucalyptus.