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Bound for the clouds

01 Jul 10

Gartner Group picked cloud computing as one of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2010. In making this prediction, Gartner’s focus seemed to rest on the enterprise, where cloud computing holds the promise of reducing complexity and increasing productivity. I have yet to see any real success stories in the enterprise; instead, consumer mobile devices are the real driver of cloud computing.
Many vendors have made large strides in cloud computing; if you’re a .NET developer it’s hard to pass on Microsoft’s Azure platform, but the question is, which are the largest and most established cloud computing platforms today? That would be Amazon, Google Apps, the iTunes Music Store, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the biggest of all… YouTube. Were you expecting that?
The rapid growth of social media, coupled with the increasing use of consumer mobile devices to access the internet, means these platforms have to keep pace with the demands being placed on them, and the only real way forward is cloud computing. These platforms have also had their (very public) problems with security, privacy, service availability and disputes over intellectual property ownership – all of which should concern any enterprise.
While enterprise-level cloud computing agreements will cover issues of data ownership and service levels, areas surrounding security and availability become more complex. Everyone is familiar with the Twitter ‘fail whale’. It will be interesting to see what happens to an organisation using, for example, Amazon S3 when a few hundred thousand mobile users are Tweeting, Facebooking and YouTubing the game live during the Rugby World Cup. The platforms will cope with the load, but New Zealand’s international bandwidth capacity is currently finite and no amount of QoS can guard against saturation.
While the enterprise is still cautiously approaching cloud computing, consumers have raced ahead; the number of Android smartphones, iPhones and netbook computers being sold highlights this widening gap. Personally, I use Evernote as my primary productivity tool. With Evernote I can record a voice memo, take a picture, or jot down a note on my iPhone, knowing it will be available on all my other devices, including my work laptop, almost immediately – I even wrote this article in it, and I pay nothing for this service. How can that not seduce the average consumer?
So, here’s a thought: if consumers are leading the demand for cloud computing and the platforms they are using are becoming the most mature and robust, is it possible that these same providers may become suppliers to the enterprise at some stage in the future? Many small businesses run entirely on Google Apps for one simple reason: at a bargain price of only $US50 per user per year they get enterprise-grade email, shared calendaring and collaborative document editing. As an enterprise, if Google started offering a true cloud computing platform, one where you could host all your business critical data in real-time with robust mobile access to it, pointing to millions of existing (albeit smaller) customers, you’d pause to think.
What if it was Apple offering this service? It makes sense for Apple to offer an iCloud; it has the infrastructure, a proven track record with the iTunes Music Store and further branching into services would increase its revenue.
Personally, I would feel far more comfortable hosting my organisation’s data with IBM, for example, a thought leader in this area; but the bottom line is Amazon, Google, Apple and others all have a head start – they’re the ones walking the walk already. I think it’s too early to say how this will all come together, but one thing’s for sure: it will be interesting to watch.

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