It’s hard to have a discussion these days with a customer or read an article in the technology space without having a discussion about “the cloud”. It has even hit the television, all be it in rather confusing terms. I imagine for most people the question would be is “what is it” and “why do I care”? In many instances most people are already using a cloud based offering, they just don’t know it, because what they are using has not been referred to as a cloud application before. A couple of classic examples would be Microsoft Hotmail or Google gMail. The simple reason these are cloud applications is nothing is needed bot a browser to sign up and use the applications. All your data resides somewhere on the internet. Where? Who cares. But i guess to further the discussion we need to break our cloud up into scenarios. Probably the easiest way to do this is to look at business and then consumers.
When I started in the industry back into 1991, businesses in America were aggressively looking to the PC and the PC based network as a way of differentiating themselves from their competition. This led to new concepts (or rehashed concepts as nothing is ever truly new in technology). Along came networking, email, client-server, large databases, customer relationship management(CRM), it’s really an extensive list bit this led to a new organization in business: IT. Granted the PC era did not create it but it certainly grew it to the point that most large enterprises have IT departments with a billion budgets. These were necessary departments but the bottom line is the are expensive to maintain. If you start to think what it takes to create and support these systems there is a lot to it. You need hardware (desktop and server hardware), network equipment such as routers and load balancers, administrators for nearly everything, whether it is managing your messaging systems of a database. There is the physical space to actually manage all these systems, this is where the big term we hear so often today comes into play: data centers. in addition these data centers with all those machines get hot so the need cooling systems. When everything is in place you still need something to manage the fact that you could have a fire or earthquake. Therefore you need backup for all this stuff at remote locations. So everything I mentioned which is a subset of reality can be multiplied by two. In short as systems grow and technologies improve or newer better stuff becomes available one thing is consistent, your costs continue to increase.
The cloud provides the promise to reduce some of the complexity and costs in the CIO’s budget. The term CIO stands for Chief Information Office or Career is Over. The former is a business title the latter is true. The cloud promises to take some of the complexity away from IT organizations today. A great example is CRM and what SalesForce.Com is doing. AT my current place of work we use the too to manage our sales forecasts, contacts, product pipeline etc..the great thing is we simply pay for the service we do not have to set up new hardware in a data center and pay for power and cooling of the system. It allows our company to focus our operations on our core business serving customers rather than having to have internal discussions about developing new features and functionality into an application that may or may not work depending on what is delivered. We can extend beyond CRM into a whole set of new services that will be offered. I believe in time email will be a cloud based service and will not require as much on primes equipment.
One of the most annoying commercials on television is Microsoft’s MSN, Live Messenger ad that ends with some goofy looking people saying, “to the Cloud”. With that quick slam of Microsoft I should point out there is some truth to the ad. Cloud based services will play an ever-increasing role in how consumers interact with technology. As I pointed out in the beginning people already are with cloud based email services like Hotmail and gMail. With the explosion of digital photography into everyday life it is becoming increasingly important to have some type of cloud based storage. Why risk family memories to a house fire or theft? When you post pictures to Facebook aren’t you essentially making a back up copy of photo’s?
The promise of the cloud for the consumer is the same as the enterprise, taking some of the complexity out of how we manage our personal lives online. We can take a simple example of a Word document. Today you create a word doc and save it to your local hard drive. Whether you know it or not that file has a path it is located on such as C:\\jill\mydocuments – now that file is at risk. Your computer could have a hard drive crash. A virus. You spill a coke on the computer. There are a number of things that could happen. I am sure many of you our there have had them happen. With the cloud you can make this a seem less experience where you store all your files in the cloud – you can just change the file path to G:\\ or H:\\ with the corresponding path being on the internet. There are services out there today that do online back up with services such as Dropbox or Windows Live Skydrive, which offers 25 GB for free. These are simple examples. But with applications like Google Docs the world of apps will also live in the cloud. Your documents and spreadsheets will run in the browser and all files you create will live in the cloud. Te benefit of all this is when you do spill Coke on your Netbook, you may destroy it but your valuable files, like photo’s, music, tax documents, financial statements will be somewhere else. You will not need to reload Microsoft Office (what did I do with the CD?) This will be taking a level of complexity that has been growing over years out of our day-to-day lives
In the end the Cloud will fundamentally alter our lives and alter how business is done today. In the tech industry it has always been the goal to make all great innovations accessible to the general public. Though the PC took us much closer to making that vision reality, it also introduced a lot of complexity, unknowingly into people and enterprises lives. The cloud is the next step in simplifying technology. Let the “whiz kids” do all the heavy lifting in the background and let people get on with their lives and get on with their jobs. Let’s reap the benefits and not the pain.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 15th, 2011