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Breaking Analysis: Answering the top 10 questions about supercloud

As we exited the isolation economy last year, supercloud is a term we introduced to describe something new that was happening in the world of cloud. In this Breaking Analysis we address the ten most frequently asked questions we get on supercloud. 

Today we’ll address the following frequently asked questions:

1. In an industry full of hype and buzzwords, why does anyone need a new term? 

2. Aren’t hyperscalers building out superclouds? We’ll try to answer why the term supercloud connotes something different from a hyperscale clouds.  

3. We’ll talk about the problems superclouds solve.  

4. We’ll further define the critical aspects of a supercloud architecture?

5. We often get asked – isn’t this just multi-cloud? Well we don’t think so and we’ll explain why. 

6. In an earlier episode we introduced the notion of superPaaS  – well isn’t a plain vanilla PaaS already a superPaaS. Again – we don’t think so and we’ll explain why. 

7. Who will actually build (and who are the players currently building) superclouds?

8. What workloads & services will run on superclouds?

8a. (or #9) What are some examples of supercloud?

10. Finally we’ll answer what you can expect next on supercloud from SiliconANGLE and theCUBE? 

Why do we need another buzzword? 

Late last year, ahead of re:Invent we were inspired by a post from Jerry Chen called Castles in the Cloud. In that blog he introduced the idea that there were submarkets emerging in cloud that presented opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs. That the big cloud vendors weren’t going to suck all the value out of the industry. And so we introduced this notion of supercloud to describe what we saw as a value layer emerging above the hyperscalers’ “CAPEX gift.” 

It turns out that we weren’t the only ones using the term as both Cornell & MIT have used the phrase in somewhat similar but different contexts. 

The point is something new was happening in the AWS (and other) ecosystems. It was more than IaaS and PaaS and wasn’t just SaaS running in the cloud. 

It was a new architecture that integrates infrastructure, unique platform attributes and software to solve new problems that the cloud vendors in our view weren’t addressing by themselves. It seemed to us that the ecosystem was pursuing opportunities across clouds that went beyond conventional implementations of multi-cloud.

In addition, we felt this trend pointed to structural change going on at the industry level that supercloud metaphorically was highlighting. 

So that’s the background on why we felt a new catchphrase was warranted. Love it or hate it…it’s memorable. 

Industry Structures Have Always Mattered in Tech

To that last point about structural industry transformation. Andy Rappaport is sometimes credited with identifying the shift from the vertically integrated mainframe era to the horizontally fragmented PC / microprocessor-based era in his HBR article from 1991. 

In fact it was actually David Moschella, an IDC SVP at the time, who first introduced the concept in 1987, a full four years before Rappaport’s article was published. Moschella, along with IDC’s head of research Will Zachmann, saw that it was clear Intel, Microsoft, Seagate, et al would replace the system vendors’ dominance. In fact Zachmann accurately predicted in the late 1980’s, the demise of IBM, well ahead of its epic downfall when the company lost approximately 75% of its value. At an IDC Briefing Session (now called Directions), Moschella put that forth a graphic that looked similar to the first two concepts on the chart below.

We don’t have to review the shift from IBM as the epicenter of the industry to Wintel – that’s well understood. 

What isn’t as widely discussed is a structural concept Moschella put out in 2018 in his book “Seeing Digital,” which introduced the idea of the Matrix shown on the right hand side of this chart. Moschella posited that a new digital platform of services was emerging built on top of the Internet, hyperscale clouds and other intelligent technologies that would define the next era of computing. 

He used the term matrix because the conceptual depiction included horizontal technology rows, like the cloud…but for the first time included connected industry columns. Moschella pointed out that whereas historically, industry verticals had a closed value chain or stack of R&D, production, distribution, etc. and that expertise in that specific vertical was critical to success…because of digital and data, for the first time, companies were able to jump industries and compete using data. Amazon in content, payments & groceries…Apple in payments and content, and so forth. Data was now the unifying enabler and this marked a changing structure of the technology landscape. 

[Listen to David Moschella explain the Matrix and its implications on a new generation of leadership in tech]. 

So the term supercloud is meant to imply more than running in hyperscale clouds, rather it’s a new type of digital platform comprising a combination of multiple technologies – enabled by cloud scale – with new industry participants from financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, media and virtually all industries. Think of it as kind of an extension of “every company is a software company.”

Basically, thanks to the cloud, every company in every industry now has the opportunity to build their own supercloud. We’ll come back to that. 

Aren’t Hyperscale Clouds Superclouds?

Let’s address what’s different about superclouds relative to hyperscale clouds?

This one’s pretty straightforward and obvious. Hyperscale clouds are walled gardens where they want your data in their cloud and they want to keep you there. Sure every cloud player realizes that not all data will go to their cloud so they’re meeting customers where their data lives with initiatives like Amazon Outposts and Azure Arc and Google Anthos…but at the end of the day, the more homogeneous they can make their environments, the better control, security, costs and performance they can deliver. The more complex the environment, the more difficult to deliver on their promises and the less margin left for them to capture. 

Will the hyperscalers get more serious about cross cloud services…maybe but they have plenty of work to do within their own clouds. And today at least they appear to be providing the tools that will enable others to build superclouds on top of their platforms. That said, we never say never when it comes to companies like AWS. And for sure we see AWS delivering more integrated digital services like Amazon Connect to solve problems in a specific domain, call centers in this case.

What Problems do Superclouds Solve?

We’ve all seen the stats from IDC or Gartner or whomever that customers on average use more than one cloud. And we know these clouds operate in disconnected silos for the most part. And that’s a problem because each cloud requires different skills. The development environment is different as is the operating environment. With different APIs and primitives and management tools that are optimized for each respective hyperscale cloud. Their functions and value props don’t extend to their competitors’ clouds. Why would they? 

As a result there’s friction when moving between different clouds. It’s hard to share data, move work, secure and govern data, enforce organizational policies and edicts across clouds. 

Supercloud is an architecture designed to create a single environment that enables management of workloads and data across clouds in an effort to take out complexity, accelerate application development, streamline operations and share data safely irrespective of location. 

Pretty straightforward, but non-trivial, which is why we often ask company CEOs and execs if stock buybacks and dividends will yield as much return as building out superclouds that solve really specific problems and create differentiable value for their firms. 

What are the Critical Attributes of a Supercloud?

Let’s dig in a bit more to the architectural aspects of supercloud. In other words…what are the salient attributes that define Supercloud?

First, a supercloud runs a set of specific services, designed to solve a unique problem. Superclouds offer seamless, consumption-based services across multiple distributed clouds. 

Supercloud leverages the underlying cloud native tooling of a hyperscale cloud but it’s optimized for a specific objective that aligns with the problem it’s solving. For example, it may be optimized for cost or low latency or sharing data or governance or security or higher performance networking. But the point is, the collection of services delivered is focused on unique value that isn’t being delivered by the hyperscalers across clouds. 

A supercloud abstracts the underlying and siloed primitives of the native PaaS layer from the hyperscale cloud and using its own specific platform as a service tooling, creates a common experience across clouds for developers and users. In other words, the superPaaS ensures that the developer and user experience is identical, irrespective of which cloud or location is running the workload. 

And it does so in an efficient manner, meaning it has the metadata knowledge and management that can optimize for latency, bandwidth, recovery, data sovereignty or whatever unique value the supercloud is delivering for the specific use cases in the domain. 

A supercloud comprises a superPaaS capability that allows ecosystem partners to add incremental value on top of the supercloud platform to fill gaps, accelerate features and innovate. A superPaaS can use open tooling but applies those development tools to create a unique and specific experience supporting the design objectives of the supercloud. 

Supercloud services can be infrastructure-related, application services, data services, security services, users services, etc. designed and packaged to bring unique value to customers…again that the hyperscalers are not delivering across clouds or on-premises. 

Finally, these attributes are highly automated where possible. Superclouds take a page from hyperscalers in terms of minimizing human intervention wherever possible, applying automation to the specific problem they’re solving.

Isn’t Supercloud Just Another Term for Multi-cloud?

What we’d say to that is perhaps but not really. Call it multi-cloud 2.0 if you want to invoke a commonly used format. But as Dell’s Chuck Whitten proclaimed, multi-cloud by design is different than multi-cloud by default. 

Meaning to date, multi-cloud has largely been a symptom of multi-vendor…or of M&A. And when you look at most so-called multi-cloud implementations you see things like an on-prem stack wrapped in a container and hosted on a specific cloud. 

Or increasingly a technology vendor has done the work of building a cloud-native version of their stack and running it on a specific cloud…but historically it’s been a unique experience within each cloud with no connection between the cloud silos. And certainly not a common developer experience with metadata management across clouds. 

Supercloud sets out to build incremental value across clouds and above hyperscale CAPEX that goes beyond cloud compatibility within each cloud. So if you want to call it multi-cloud 2.0 that’s fine. 

We choose to call it supercloud. 

Isn’t Plain Old PaaS Already Supercloud?

Well we’d say no. That supercloud and its corresponding superPaaS layer gives the freedom to store, process, manage, secure and connect islands of data across a continuum with a common developer experience across clouds. 

Importantly, the sets of services are designed to support the supercloud’s objectives – e.g. data sharing or data protection or storage and retrieval or cost optimization or ultra low latency, etc.  In other words, the services offered are specific to that supercloud and will vary by each offering. OpenShift for example can be used to construct a superPaaS but in and of itself isn’t a superPaaS. It’s generic.  

The point is a supercloud and its inherent superPaaS will be optimized to solve specific problems like low latency for distributed databases or fast backup and recovery / ransomware protection. Highly specific use cases that the supercloud is designed to solve for. 

SaaS as well is a subset of supercloud. Most SaaS platforms either run in their own cloud or have bits and pieces running in public clouds (e.g. analytics). But the cross-cloud services are few and far between or often non-existent. We believe SaaS vendors must evolve and adopt supercloud to offer distributed solutions across cloud platforms and stretching out to the near and far edge.

Who is Building Superclouds?

Another question we often get is who has a supercloud and who is building a supercloud? Who are the contenders?

Well, most companies that consider themselves cloud players will, we believe, be building superclouds. Above is a common ETR graphic we like to show with Net Score or spending momentum on the Y axis and Overlap or pervasiveness in the ETR surveys on the X axis. This is from the April survey of well over 1,000 CIOs and IT buyers. And we’ve randomly chosen a number of players we think are in the supercloud mix and we’ve included the hyperscalers because they are the enablers. 

We’ve added some of those non-traditional industry players we see building superclouds like Capital One, Goldman Sachs and Walmart, in deference to Moschella’s observation about verticals. This goes back to every company being a software company. And rather than pattern matching an outdated SaaS model we see a new industry structure emerging where software and data and tools specific to an industry will lead the next wave of innovation via the build out of intelligent digital platforms. 

We’ve talked a lot about Snowflake’s Data Cloud as an example of supercloud. And the momentum of Databricks (not shown above). VMware is clearly going after cross-cloud services. Basically every large company we see either pursuing supercloud initiatives or thinking about it. Dell, for example, showed Project Alpine at Dell Tech World – that’s a supercloud in development. Snowflake introducing a new app dev capability based on their SuperPaaS (our term of course they don’t use the phrase), MongoDB, Couchbase, Nutanix, Veeam, Crowdstrike, Okta, Zscaler. Even the likes of Cisco and HPE in our view will be building superclouds

Although ironically, as an aside, Fidelma Russo, HPE’s CTO said on theCUBE she wasn’t a fan of cloaking mechanisms. But when we spoke to HPE’s head of storage services, Omer Asad, we felt his team is clearly headed in a direction that we would consider supercloud. It could be semantics or it could be that parts of HPE are in a better position to execute on supercloud. Storage is an obvious starting point…the same can be said of Dell. 

[Listen to Fidelma Russo explain her aversion to building a manager of managers]. 

And we’re seeing emerging companies like Aviatrix (network performance), Starburst (self-service analytics for distributed data), Clumio (data protection – not supercloud today but working on it) and others building versions of superclouds that solve a specific problem for their customers. And we’ve spoken to ISVs like Adobe, ADP and UiPath who are all looking at new ways to go beyond the SaaS model and add value within cloud ecosystems, in particular building data services that are unique to their value proposition that will run across clouds. 

So yeah – pretty much every tech vendor with any size or momentum and new industry players are coming out of hiding and competing…building superclouds. Many that look a lot like Moschella’s matrix with machine intelligence / AI and blockchains and virtual realities and gaming…all enabled by the Internet and hyperscale clouds. 

It’s moving fast and it’s the future in our opinion so don’t get too caught up in the past or you’ll be left behind. 

What are Some Examples of Superclouds?

We’ve given many in the past but let’s try to be a bit more specific. Below we cite a few and we’ll answer two questions in one section here – What workloads and services will run in superclouds and what are some examples.

Analytics. Snowflake is the furthest along with its data cloud in our view. It’s a supercloud optimized for data sharing, governance, query performance, security, ecosystem enablement and ultimately monetization. Snowflake is now bringing in new data types and open source tooling and it ticks the attribute boxes on supercloud we laid out earlier. 

Converged Databases. Running transaction and analytic workloads. Take a look at what Couchbase is doing with Capella and how it’s enabling stretching the cloud to the edge with Arm-based platforms and optimizing for low latency across clouds and out to the edge. 

Document Database Workloads – Look at MongoDB – a developer-friendly platform that with Atlas is moving to a supercloud model running document databases very efficiently. Accommodating analytic workloads and creating a common developer experience across clouds. 

Data Science Workloads. e.g. Databricks bringing a common experience for data scientists and data engineers driving machine intelligence into applications and fixing the broken data lake with the emergence of the lakehouse.

General Purpose Workloads. e.g. VMware’s domain. Very clearly there’s a need to create a common operating environment across clouds and on-prem and out to the edge and VMware is hard at work on that. Managing and moving workloads, balancing workloads and being able to recover very quickly across clouds.

Network Routing. – This is the primary focus of Aviatrix, building what we consider a supercloud and optimizing network performance and automating security across clouds. 

Industry-specific Workloads. e.g. Capital One announcing its cost optimization platform for Snowflake – piggybacking on Snowflake’s supercloud. We believe it’s going to test that concept outside of its own organization and expand across other clouds as Snowflake grows its business beyond AWS. Walmart working with Microsoft to create an on-prem to Azure experience – yes that counts. We’ve written about what Goldman is doing and you can bet dollars to donuts that Oracle will be building a supercloud in healthcare with its Cerner acquisition. 

Supercloud is everywhere you look. Sorry naysayers. It’s happening.

What’s Next from theCUBE?

With all the industry buzz and debate about the future, John Furrier and the team at SiliconANGLE have decided to host an event on supercloud. We’re motivated and inspired to further the conversation. theCUBE on Supercloud is coming.


On August 9th out of our Palo Alto studios we’ll be running a live program on the topic. We’ve reached out to a number of industry participants…VMware, Snowflake, Confluent, Sky High Security, Hashicorp, Cloudflare and Red Hat to get the perspective of technologists building superclouds. 

And we’ve invited a number of vertical industry participants in financial services, healthcare and retail that we’re excited to have on along with analysts, thought leaders and investors. 

We’ll have more details in the coming weeks but for now if you’re interested please reach out to us with how you think you can advance the discussion and we’ll see if we can fit you in.

So mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information. 

Keep in Touch

Thanks to Alex Myerson who does the production, podcasts and media workflows for Breaking Analysis. Special thanks to Kristen Martin and Cheryl Knight who help us keep our community informed and get the word out. And to Rob Hof, our EiC at SiliconANGLE.

Remember we publish each week on Wikibon and SiliconANGLE. These episodes are all available as podcasts wherever you listen.

Email | DM @dvellante on Twitter | Comment on our LinkedIn posts.

Also, check out this ETR Tutorial we created, which explains the spending methodology in more detail.

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All statements made regarding companies or securities are strictly beliefs, points of view and opinions held by SiliconANGLE media, Enterprise Technology Research, other guests on theCUBE and guest writers. Such statements are not recommendations by these individuals to buy, sell or hold any security. The content presented does not constitute investment advice and should not be used as the basis for any investment decision. You and only you are responsible for your investment decisions.

Disclosure: Many of the companies cited in Breaking Analysis are sponsors of theCUBE and/or clients of Wikibon. None of these firms or other companies have any editorial control over or advanced viewing of what’s published in Breaking Analysis. 



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