Forum: A cloudy future would be a profound change

There's a paradigm shift in the air

Last week we reported on Microsoft’s plans to launch a number of hosted services, to deliver functionality such as hosted exchange from the “cloud”, a move clearly designed to protect the company’s business from the likes of Google, which recently won the University of Auckland and NSW schools as email services clients.

Cloud computing, if it takes off, will represent a profound change to the way we do business and do the business of ICT. It has already cleared the path for a whole new category of client devices, led by Acer’s EEE PC. Such devices represent something of a back-to-basics approach to computing, where small, light applications, or applications hosted online, are the main tools of productivity.

We’ve long talked about how 90% of users only use about 10% of the functionality of programs such as Microsoft Office. Given the cost of Office, that’s not very efficient. On one front, cloud computing is the latest attack on that kind of application bloat.

But it will bring with it a gamut of other changes. Right now, for instance, we find ourselves, as either individuals or businesses, in a bit of a storage arms race. The demand for new storage on both the client and the server seems insatiable.

A cloud future opens the possibility that we simply use a storage service. Send everything up a pipe to one of several huge datacentres boasting redundancy and disaster recovery that us in New Zealand businesses can only dream of.

Many will wonder about how secure this data will be. We will be reluctant to let it out of our control without a whole bunch of safeguards. But isn’t it safer in a state of the art datacentre in who-knows-where, Idaho, than in our often overcrowded and shaky servers rooms back home?

Of cource, to do all of this you need reliable and affordable broadband. Isn’t it funny how we always come back to that?

In town last week was Australian-based Qualcomm senior director Rob Hart, who presented to a TUANZ audience some visions of a wireless broadband future, much of which will rely on services delivered from the, err, mobile cloud. Afterwards, Hart suggested the current boom in Flash memory could be a very temporary thing as more and more data gets shipped up our wires to storage at service providers of all shapes and sizes.

Not just flash storage, either. If the cloud is the future, all but the most industrial strength datacentre storage could become increasingly redundant.

But for the ICT industry, cloud computing isn’t just a disruptive threat. It also potentially increases the speed at which technology becomes commoditised. The prices Microsoft put on its hosted services were said last week to have “put a ceiling” on the market.

Google has similarly put ceilings on the cost of many of its cloud services, and often that ceiling is zero.

ICT providers need to ask themselves how unique their cloud service plans are and how long can they be kept unique and valuable. The cloud promises to become a very tough market very quickly.

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Tags CloudtechnologyMicrosoft

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