Do you use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, or YouTube to upload your personal videos and to watch movie trailers and music videos? Are you using Flickr or Picasa to store your personal photo collection – after all, when was the last time you took photographs using film that needed to be developed?
This is cloud computing.
Forget the hyperbole you read in the media about the future of computing. For most of us, it’s already here today. We are already using the cloud. Just it’s mostly personal, rather than business related. Our personal use of technology systems and the infrastructure used to deliver those services is far more advanced than that used in almost any organisation.
So how do we move from a situation where our personal IT footprint can almost entirely exist in the cloud – using tools such as Google Mail, Google Docs, and photo, video, and document sharing sites – to a point where this is accepted business practice?
It’s a tall order. IT leaders have a different focus to personal end users, particularly when it comes to availability and security. These are particularly important factors when the IT service is purchased from a supplier and will translate into key performance indicators applied to a service level agreement. The small print of the publicly available services does include information about service levels, but it will just excuse the provider from any responsibility to give you a reliable service.
If Google Mail was never available when you wanted to use it then it would be abandoned and never used, but it’s reliable enough for most people. However, a regular user doesn’t have much control. I can only stamp my feet in anger if I need to send an urgent email and Google has decided to take the service down for an hour for maintenance. But Google does offer a paid-for version, with SLAs in place for availability.
The cloud is confused as it refers to many areas of IT, in particular, infrastructure as a service, software as a service, and utility computing. Can the cloud model offer a future scenario for IT leaders where capital expenditure is almost zero because the back-end, and front-end of almost all business applications can be purchased and paid for only when needed?
And what does all this mean for the clients of IT services, or the IT supplier community itself? The world is about to change in a number of ways.
First, the business users can very easily benchmark the cost of the systems they use. If the CIO is asking the business users to pay $300 a month for CRM, yet they know they can use Salesforce.com for less than a third, then why would they use the internal systems?
Second, the systems integrators who rely on customising and installing major systems may need to think of what customisation can be performed in future. It’s very difficult to change cloud-based systems, and if office services like email, CRM, and word processing all move into the cloud then there is no longer a need to install, upgrade, and maintain those systems.
There is a big change ahead for the people using corporate IT, and the companies who maintain those systems.