Riding the Gartner Hype Cycle Roller Coaster: Hang on to your Magic Quadrants!

November 28th, 2012 by - 19,639 views

Every year, vendors and companies watch to see how providers are positioned in Gartner’s Magic Quadrants. Gartner has been providing Magic Quadrant analysis for many years in different industry verticals, and although the analysis isn’t necessarily the gold standard, it does help those making buying decisions understand each industry a little more clearly.

Since 2009, GoGrid has been in a Gartner Magic Quadrant, and this year we’re happy to announce our inclusion in the 2012 Cloud IaaS Magic Quadrant. Instead of analyzing the comments and positioning of the cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers, I wanted to take a different approach by focusing on how the Magic Quadrant has evolved over the years in relation to cloud computing, hosting, and IaaS in general.

What’s all the “hype” about?

Many of you may be familiar with another Gartner graphic and report called the “Hype Cycle.” The Hype Cycle graphically represents the evolution of a new technology from its introduction through its maturity. The Cycle is broken into five distinct “slopes,” and looks like this:


  • The Technology Trigger phase is where a breakthrough or new technology first begins to garner interest.
  • The Peak of Inflated Expectations is the phase where a technology is seen as the solution to all ills. At this point, the technology is pushed to the limit, with some successes and plenty of failures. There’s a lot of media, marketing, and PR hype during this phase, as its name implies.
  • Once reality sets in, the technology enters the Trough of Disillusionment. In this phase, there isn’t as much media interest and there’s possibly more criticism than praise.
  • As the technology begins to mature and users continue to experiment and innovate, we reach a level of clairvoyance where potential risks and benefits are clearer and there are more solutions that use the technology. This phase is the Slope of Enlightenment.
  • When real-world applications appear and are accepted and the value proposition gains traction, the technology hits the Plateau of Productivity, where more widespread adoption occurs. Once the technology reaches this level, it has become established and viable.

Like many transforming technologies before it, cloud computing is working its way through this Hype Cycle roller coaster. Five years ago, the cloud was chugging up the hill to get ready for the ride, and more recently, it’s sped down the descent as the technology gained momentum. Where does it stand currently? There are many opinions, of course, but I believe we’re enjoying the ride to the Plateau of Productivity.

Hype or magic?

As I reflected on the Hype Cycle ride, I thought about Gartner’s analysis of the companies that make up each year’s Magic Quadrant (MQ) for cloud, IaaS, and hosting. And it made me wonder how each of the five Gartner MQs related to cloud IaaS might map against a Hype Cycle. The result looks like this:


In June 2009 when the first MQ came out for “cloud” (and the first iterations of cloud infrastructure services), Gartner gave a long, descriptive name to the report: “Magic Quadrant for Web Hosting and Hosted Cloud System Infrastructure (On Demand).” As the industry itself struggled to come up with a definition of cloud computing, Gartner encapsulated the key characteristic in the title, “on demand,” rolled in a use case, “web hosting.” This report pulled together two types of infrastructure services, traditional web hosting and cloud IaaS, a grouping that would change in the future as we’ll see.

In this phase, the cloud was new and supporters had lofty expectations. The first services of Amazon Web Services launched in 2006, GoGrid’s first public beta was in early 2008, and many other cloud providers emerged soon afterward. There was a lot of anticipation and excitement around this new technology movement, and it was contagious.

Fast-forward to December 2010 when Gartner released its next cloud and hosting MQ, this time titled “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Web Hosting.” The industry had had a year to fine-tune the definition of cloud computing, and this MQ reflected that progress, but still lumped cloud IaaS and web hosting together. Cloud infrastructure was beginning to be poked and prodded, tested and deployed, delivering successes and failures as the rough edges were smoothed out. True to form, this phase was moving from the original high expectations to a lower level where the hype wasn’t always meeting those expectations.

In December 2011, Gartner did something interesting. It released the “Magic Quadrant for Public Cloud Infrastructure as a Service.” Note the word missing from the title: “hosting.” This omission was a sign cloud infrastructure as a technology was maturing and offered a viable alternative to traditional web hosting. By this point, the definition of cloud computing had crystallized and cloud IaaS started moving up the Slope of Enlightenment. It’s is also important to point out the inclusion of the word “public” modifying “cloud infrastructure as a service” in the title because a plethora of “clouds” were emerging—public, private, hybrid—and “public” was a needed descriptor.

To punctuate the separation of traditional hosting from the “new” IaaS technology, Gartner released a distinct “Magic Quadrant for Managed Hosting” in March 2012 (yes, GoGrid was positioned in this report as well). This bifurcation is represented in my modified Hype Cycle graphic above. Managed hosting has been a stable technology and popular service for many years; however, I believe it’s quickly being eclipsed by cloud IaaS. Just take a look at how the keyword phrases “managed hosting” and “cloud computing” compare over the years. Note how “managed hosting” remains relatively flat while “cloud computing” takes off. Interestingly, the search frequency is dying down as cloud becomes established in the Plateau of Productivity.


(Source: Google Trends)

In October of this year, Gartner released its “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service” (which you can download here). Note how the title has, once again, evolved and no longer includes the word “public.” This change reflects mainstream media’s use of the ubiquitous “cloud” term to encapsulate “everything cloud” and the fact that to the public, there’s no distinction because, “It’s all in the cloud.” My opinion is that Gartner is opting for unification and simplification and has decided to distinguish non-public clouds with further descriptors (e.g., “private”).

And then there were…fewer?

There’s another interesting insight we can gain from the progression of these Magic Quadrants regarding the number of positioned vendors:

  • June 2009 (cloud and hosting) – 16 vendors
  • December 2010 (cloud and hosting) – 20 vendors
  • December 2011 (cloud only) – 20 vendors
  • March 2012 (hosting only) – 17 vendors
  • October 2012 (cloud only) – 15 vendors

The number of vendors included in each MQ maps nicely to where the industry was on the Hype Cycle when that report was published. Early on in 2009, the technology was new, there weren’t many vendors, and few of them offered cloud (but did provide web hosting). By 2010, there were more cloud and hosting vendors as the industry gained momentum and some providers even started “cloud-washing” their products and services (making them “cloud-like”). In late 2011/early 2012, the report splits because there are simply too many vendors in each space (37, with some overlaps). Then in October 2012 with the cloud/IaaS-only report, the number of vendors providing pure cloud infrastructure dropped off to an established set that had weathered the cloud computing storm.

So how does Gartner view the cloud computing industry on its Hype Cycle? I’ve included their graphic here so you can see the complexity of this continually evolving technology and formulate your own opinion of where the cloud stands (or floats). You can download/purchase the full “Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing, 2012” report here.


(Image source: Forbes; report source: Gartner)

I’m curious to find out where you think cloud infrastructure as a service sits in your version of the Gartner Hype Cycle. Do you believe the points I’ve made here are accurate? Or am I just looking at the world through cloud-colored glasses? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

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