Head in the Clouds

OK, as a followup to my last post, about why those of us who are pure-tech open-source weenies won’t stop Apple’s domination of the tablet industry, lets talk about its other side: “Cloud-Based Computing”.

First, “Cloud Computing” Is NOT a new idea – the idea that resources, applications, and data reside on a remote computer system and are accessed via the internet is not a new one – those of us who regularly use VPNs have been doing it for years. The term we are now using, in fact, comes simply from the cloud symbol we have always used on CAD drawings and flowcharts to indicate a remote network.

The only difference is that Cloud Computing is now available to everyone, vs. only to those of us with private networks.

The concept is important because it enables a bunch of things:

First, lighter-weight (both in terms of physical size and processor/memory power) computing devices, such as tablets and netbooks. We no longer need to store the data, or even the applications, locally, if we can access them wirelessly over the internet.

Second, mobility. Because these devices need be less powerful, they run longer on batteries, and enable us to spend longer times working in remote locations.

Third, application portability. In the past, I carried a laptop in the field, but ran CAD only on a larger computer at my desk. Now, using my iPad or netbook, I can access, view, and even annotate those drawings using a web viewing application. And when I update data or an application, it is done for ALL my devices at once.. in fact, somebody else does this kind of software maintenance FOR me.

In a day when staffs are smaller, knowledge more specialized, and mobility is important, “Cloud Computing” is finally coming of age.

Another new phenomenon, and something that has been talked about a lot this week (I know I’ve gotten a ton of email about it) is the method of storing your data and applications on remote servers owned and managed by somebody else – your ISP or ASP (Application Service Provider). My own company has been moving to the ASP model for several years, for our project management, calendaring, and office programs. With a new change in our accounting program, ALL our applications and data will reside on servers managed by somebody else, and they will be equally accessible to my employees from any location. We can even answer our office extensions from wherever we happen to be, and that has enabled us to move ahead in volume and projects without increasing staff size.

Now, if you are my age (I’ve been at this 25 years) your first reaction is “I cant trust my data to somebody else – what if they lose it?” and the Luddites mng you have written me a lot this week to point out the “Amazon Incident” this week, where the world’s largest Cloud Computing provider, Amazon (yes, the bookstore) had several servers go down for a day.

The question, for me, is this: We’ve all had servers go down, haven’t we? We have all lost data. The real question is, when that happens, do you want to be working on recovery, or do you want an organization with the size and capabilities of an Amazon working on it for you?

Personally, my head’s in the clouds. (Go ahead, use the pun, Luddites – I gave it to you).

More to come on this.