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Is Your Head In The Cloud(s)?

We have reached a point of decision as Cloud-based services now offer real choices.


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May 1, 2012 by Mark Evans

The introduction of Windows 7 and the Apple iOS5 operating systems were two more developments that have helped change the way we can manage information, making for seamless back-up and file sharing, in some cases automatically posting it across multiple devices. For many people, this was their first introduction (albeit on a personal level) to the visible elements of the concept of Cloud computing.

In looking back however, what we now know as Cloud computing was foretold in 1995 by Marc Andreessen, the creator of the Mosaic web browser and co-founder of Netscape. In the May 2012 issue of Wired Magazine, he is credited with having “prophesied a future where computers would dispense with feature-heavy operating systems entirely. Instead, we would use a browser to run programs over the network (sic Internet).” The article goes on to say that “Andreessen’s vision has come to pass. Google Chrome OS for example is a fully browser-based operating system, while most of our favorite applications from e-mail to social networks, now live entirely on the network.” So now there are many ways that we may have our head in the Cloud(s) and not have even known it. For small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) and even large companies, Cloud-based services offer real choices versus tethered (dependent on a licensed software installation) programs and apps.

WHAT IS THE CLOUD FOR BUSINESS?

For a great explanation of what the Cloud represents for business, read Andrew McAfee’s article in the Harvard Business Review November 2011 (see sidebar). However, in its simplest form the Cloud represents an opportunity to access bandwidth and infrastructure, an operating platform and software on a pay-per-use basis without substantial commitment of internal resources from a dedicated IT department or investments in software. The precedent is there in many other parts of our business in things as simple as equipment or vehicle leases – let someone else own and maintain it; only pay for the portion of its usable life that you consume. As an SMB, you get a scalable solution, the protection of built-in redundancy, 24/7 access from a wider array of devices that free you from a desktop computer. In addition, based on the fact that you are part of a much larger customer base, you have access to features and support that your business on a stand-alone basis could not afford.

WHY IS THE CLOUD IMPORTANT TO BUSINESS TODAY?

In a recent conversation with Mitchell Rose, vice president of marketing for Billtrust, the developers of Invoice Central, a Cloud-based payables management system for contractors, Rose offered this insight, “Cloud services are a game changer for both large enterprises and small businesses alike. No matter the size of the organization, there are opportunities to improve core processes. Services like Invoice Central allow small business owners to bring a level of efficiency to their accounts payable process that did not exist a few short years ago. Without installing any software and at no cost, they can access invoices from the many vendors they buy from and pay these bills online.”

Building on this, it seems that many SMBs simply cannot afford to have dedicated internal IT departments; and those larger businesses that do have dedicated internal IT are looking for ways to economize. Whether it is a move to a functionspecific public Cloud solution, such as Invoice Central or a private Cloud solution where an organization builds a closed network with custom applications on the servers of an outside provider, the benefits of increased capacity and functional flexibility at a lower cost appeal to most businesses.  

HOW WILL CLOUD COMPUTING IMPACT US?

Think of your office phone system 10 years ago – an integrated PBX system that you purchased as hardware (at substantial cost), had installed by a service provider and which was linked to a landline (hardwired) based infrastructure. You had a cost to train your staff on how to use it, you had to pay to maintain or upgrade it, and if you moved premises, you got to pay to do it all over again. Think about today’s phone system. More than likely it is a virtualized network solution that is software based, connecting you via VoIP (not tied to a hardwired infrastructure), accessible from anywhere. This virtualization led to the demise of companies such as Nortel Networks and has driven radical change at the other remaining legacy equipment and telecom utilities.

When considering the impact of Cloud computing, moving from the obvious things like data storage into more nebulous areas such as hardware; the Cloud has had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on how we access, control and manipulate data. Look back over the last 20 years and you will see the progression we have made in transitioning from mainframe computing with terminal access, to networked desktops, to virtual networks and remote users on laptops. The next iteration is tablet computers or smart phones with browser-based operating systems, capable of accessing and processing data in ways that escape the limitations of hardware and memory imposed by the resident requirements of tethered software installed on a hard drive. It has been reported recently that laptop or notebook computers now account for 80 per cent of total PC sales, leaving the remaining 20 per cent as desktops. According to a January 2012 story on website theverge.com (see sidebar), writer Adi Robertson reported that Apple commanded a 25 per cent share of the global computing market in Q3 2011 and that Android devices command a 30 per cent share of the tablet market in Q3 2011. These statistics support the technology shift that cements the importance of Cloud computing and its potential impact on our future. <>

During the course of his career in the mechanical industry, Mark Evans has worked in the wholesaler and manufacturer sectors in sales and marketing positions. Contact him at mark@markevans.net or visit www.markevans.net.

Cloud Computing: Where can you find out more?

Invoice Central www.invoicecentral.com/about.html

Microsoft Virtual Academy www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/Studies/SearchResult.aspx

Cloudline, an online community presented by IBM and Wired Magazine www.wired.com/cloudline/

Harvard Business Review http://hbr.org/2011/11/what-every-ceo-needs-to-know-about-the-cloud/ar/1

The Verge www.theverge.com/2012/1/14/2706292/apple-ipad-computer-market-share-chart


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