APIs and the Future of Cloud

January 26, 2021

There was a time when all you could rely on the cloud for was web hosting and object storage. That was pretty much it. Today the range of cloud services and tools is phenomenal. It has made Amazon into much more than a retailer and overnight transformed the Microsoft universe into Azure everything — who still remembers we used to pay for Office? As we look forward to the next ten or twelve years, I’m hesitant to predict exactly what the cloud will look like, but I do see two trends that will shape the next decade of enterprise infrastructure. First, the API-driven cloud services model will become increasingly dominant. Second, the major cloud providers will stop fighting to be one-stop shops and focus on their core strengths.

There’s an API for That

These two trends are inextricably linked and can be traced back to the birth of AWS. The core idea behind AWS was that the creation of a page on a web browser shouldn’t be built around a single server. Instead, AWS conceived of an architecture in which the page should connect to multiple services running independently and available to a common API that would then assemble the page. This gave Amazon a phenomenal level of flexibility, availability, scalability and performance, and all those advantages stemmed from this notion of aggregating services.

Today this idea has moved beyond the web page. Some of the most transformative and exciting companies are the ones that act as integrators, working through APIs to pull together the tailored services of other providers and allow businesses or individuals to consume them all through one simple platform. Twilio, for example, or Shopify, which aggregates services such as Stripe and Twilio. All of it is made possible through APIs that abstract away the hard work.

As Packy McCormick notes in one of his recent Not Boring newsletters, “there’s an app for that” has now become “there’s an API for that.” Instead of building a vertically integrated factory or server, businesses can make use of an increasingly diverse API ecosystem. Once you plug in the layers for every single thing another provider has already mastered, and is offering as a service, all you are left to focus on is the one thing you do – or hope to do – better than anyone else in the market. The API ecosystem allows you to focus on what you do best.

APIs and the Future of Cloud

This brings us to the cloud giants. There is a tendency to view the current competition between the major cloud providers – Amazon, Microsoft and, increasingly, Google – as one that will have an eventual winner. I don’t buy that.

If nature abhors a vacuum, as the old physics saying goes, then cloud abhors walls. The cloud demands connectivity – throughout enterprises, between third-party services, and even from one cloud to another. We are well past the point at which one software platform vendor can control all the services. This API world is going to force them all to exist in this service-dominant ecosystem in which everything talks to everything.

The ability of these major players to retain proprietary information or access to the different layers is constantly being eroded. Users don’t care about the cloud backend that powers Zoom or Netflix. They just want quality virtual meetings and shows that don’t freeze. They want quality service.

The cloud tends to eliminate players that are not encouraging cross-cloud functionality. That’s one of the reasons we have a multi-cloud platform that doesn’t lock customers into a single provider and its services. The Nasuni Analytics Connector, for example, allows our customers to take file data stored in one cloud and make these files available to the analytics tools of another. The cloud rewards connectivity, and I see this emergent law helping to shape the next decade.

Plumbing, Collaboration and Analytics

Each of the major players will devote less effort to holding up those proprietary fences around data and fall back on their core strengths as providers. Microsoft has always been focused on the user interface. That’s what they want to control, and I see Microsoft leveraging their phenomenal cloud to wrest control of all these startups and dominate collaboration – whether that’s interactive messaging or videoconferencing.

Where Microsoft has always been an end-user-focused operation, AWS has specialized more in abstract services – the essential digital plumbing of the cloud. AWS will maintain the pipes, including the compute, storage, networking, and transactions, plus targeted micro-services like Kendra or Macie.

Where does Google fit? Given its history, and its expertise in delivering performance and analytics at scale within its own business, Google is in a great position to become the leader in providing data analytics, machine learning, and similar cloud services. I see them finding ways to help companies extract more value from their data, as opposed to making the data or transactions flow better through various layers and services or enhancing the end user experience. Google has the skills and experience to become the business intelligence leader in the enterprise cloud ecosystem.

Amazon will allow you to aggregate data from all your different layers, but then you’re going to want to feed that into a machine that’s able to process and make decisions based on the data that’s coming in – whether those decisions are IT related or of a completely different nature. Regardless, this kind of data-driven, quick decision making is the reason Google is such a powerhouse. They know what ad to show you in the next 0.01 seconds, and I expect they’ll transform these skills into new cloud services for the enterprise.

How will Nasuni evolve within this API-dominated world with its increasingly specialized cloud providers? This, thankfully, is simple. We will continue to leverage all these services and providers in this hyperconnected ecosystem to do what we do best.

We’ll take care of your files.

Ready to dive deeper into a new approach to data infrastructure?