Think for a moment about the software and IT systems you use in your personal life. Not the Excel spreadsheets you plan the budget on, or the creaking database used inside the company for planning appointments, but the systems you use because you want to use them.
What kind of applications are they? Perhaps 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. 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?
All these systems are easy to use, robust, reliable, and don’t need any kind of local infrastructure. They work entirely within a browser on any kind of hardware and they offer apparently unlimited storage space. All these tools are an essential part of daily life for most of us now and have been so for at least five years.
This is cloud computing. Forget the hyperbole you read in the media about ‘the cloud’ being the future of computing. For most of us, it’s here right now – we are operating in the cloud without using the expression. 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 Drive, 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.
It’s true there is a more reliable – and paid – enterprise version of Google’s mail and office applications. Some companies are already taking the plunge and ditching their thick-client email systems. It’s over three years since Guardian News and Media Group in the UK switched 2,500 users over to Google Apps and with it being such an easy financial decision, more have followed since.
Can cloud computing offer IT services that cost almost nothing up front and if so then what does that mean for all the companies offering traditional IT services – currently offering complex and expensive systems that are not even as good as what we can all use for free online?
Photo by Theophilos Papadopoulos licensed under Creative Commons