5 Ways Cloud Computing Will Affect Your Business in 2011

Monday Nov 29th 2010 by Jeff Vance
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Cloud computing will increase concerns with handling data, mobile and broadband speeds.

1. Top tech companies will make sure you start moving to cloud computing

With the launch of Windows 7 and Windows Live, Microsoft is betting heavily on the cloud. Cloud services and cloud storage form the background of Office synching, file sharing, collaboration, rich media and more.

Windows 7 means that even companies that have been sitting out the cloud transition are now a few short steps away from relying on the cloud each and every day. Most organizations, though, have already adopted the cloud, usually in a slow, application-by-application fashion.

Of course, many industry watchers consider many of the new features in Windows 7 as a direct response to the rise of Google.

“Until Google started giving out gigabyte mail boxes through Gmail, everybody was still stuck with their 10 MB inboxes. Google really understood the flexibility in online storage of documents, which can be shared easily with others. It is this very idea which is being repackaged by everybody, including Microsoft,” said Puneet Yamparala, a product manager with Apptivo, a provider of SMB-focused SaaS solutions.

What this means for U.S. businesses is that the cloud is coming, if it’s not already here. If you don’t develop your own in-house initiatives, the tech vendors you rely on will slowly but surely push you into the cloud.

2. You’ll need to worry about synching data again

Data synchronization is one of those things that most of us thought would be solved by now. Yet, anyone in IT can tell you that sync is a much peskier problem than it appears on the surface.

Today, most of us sync data in an easy, yet somewhat problematic way: through USB drives. That’s great if you are the only person working on the document, and if you never misplace the USB drive. All it takes, though, is losing that one thumb drive that contains sensitive corporate IP for your sync method of choice to give you serious headaches.

One of the main benefits of cloud-based applications is that they remove the need for manually synching data between various devices, folders and files, while also making it possible for various employees to collaborate on the same files with data always up to date. The reality, though, is that cloud-based apps will only solve some of the average knowledge workers’ sync needs. Device-side data will be around for years to come, and keeping that information in sync is no easy feat.

One of the strengths of Windows 7 is that it makes synching easy. Windows Live Mesh lets users keep folders and files in sync via the cloud or through P2P connections. Where Windows 7 drops the ball, though, is with mobile. Synching Windows 7 files to a smart phone still requires a workaround (many of us turn once again to Google, using Gmail for synching email, contacts and calendars and Google Docs for other files) or third-party solutions.

Mac users benefit from having MobileMe sync to both iPhones and iPads, but MobileMe was buggy in its early versions, driving away many early adopters, and at $99/year, many will opt for the manual process or for more affordable third-party sync tools that offer broader feature sets like DejaOffice from CompanionLink Software or Good CloudSync from Good Technology.

Clearly, the cloud doesn’t solve sync problems. Far from it. However, if your organization doesn’t have a data synchronization plan – with an emphasis on mobile – in place now, it will need to get one quickly in the coming year, or risk security breaches, non-compliance and document sprawl.

3. The cloud’s collision with mobile will demand corporate attention

The recession has accelerated many changes that were already underway before the crash. Outsourcing, an increasing reliance on contract workers and workers spending more of their time away from the office are all trends that show no signs of slowing down. Meanwhile, more and more employees rely on non-PC devices as their go-to computing platforms.

“It is obvious the velocity and disruption of mobile adoption (iPhone, Android, etc.) has been greater than the velocity of cloud adoption,” said David D’Souza, CEO of Moprise, a provider of mobile collaboration solutions. D’Souza compares Apple to salesforce.com to illustrate his point. In three years, with the iPhone and iPad, Apple has generated $200 billion in stock market valuation, whereas salesforce.com has managed about $20 billion.

In this economy, $20 billion in market valuation is pretty darn good, but the cloud simply doesn’t generate the excitement, nor does it have the broad consumer appeal, of mobile. “In the cloud space, things are evolving differently. In the enterprise space, people are reluctant to throw away existing business processes and tend follow their existing vendors into the cloud. For example, they are waiting for Microsoft to provide on-premise infrastructure in the cloud instead of going elsewhere. This is why many more enterprise companies have moved to cloud-hosted Exchange instead of Gmail,” D’Souza said.

Even if the enterprise fails to plan for smart phones, their broad consumer appeal means that they’ll change employee behaviors regardless. With their Marketplaces and App Stores, smart phones are changing how end users interact with applications. No longer is it necessary for each and every app to interoperate and function as a component of some larger suite. Unlike shrink-wrap software of the past, buyers don’t expect a million and one features in each and every app. Instead, smart phones encourage simple, streamlined apps (at much lower price points), and users are getting accustomed to using single apps for single tasks.

Meanwhile, the cloud is being adopted by most organizations on an app-by-app basis. Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Informatica and the like are adopted to tackle specific business challenges.

What does this mean for IT? It means that both mobile and the cloud are growing outside of IT’s control. Many cloud-based apps are adopted by individual departments or working groups, often with no organizational coordination and little IT oversight. Meanwhile, few organizations subsidize smart phones, meaning that security and safe-use policies are practically non-existent.

Organizations hoping to stay ahead of these trends should start formulating policies, training workers and giving IT the tools it needs to keep the chaos under control – today.

4. The cloud’s mobile impact will mean more than just phones

Tablets, thin client, zero client and cloud clients all stand to gain through the rise of the cloud. Throw downward price pressures from the Great Recession into the mix, and less costly client-side solutions look pretty appealing.

“As IT teams become fed up with PC security and maintenance issues, they are looking for a set-it-and-forget-it computing option,” said Jeff McNaught, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Wyse Technology, a provider of cloud-client solutions.

Connect souped-up thin clients (or those with powerful processors and decent amounts of RAM, yet no hard disk drives) to the cloud, and these so-called “cloud PCs” offer a familiar PC experience to end users, while giving the organization lower support, maintenance and licensing costs. Cloud PCs also offer security advantages (since no data is stored device-side) and lower energy costs.

Operating systems, desktops and applications are centrally stored, managed and maintained in a private cloud. They are then streamed to client devices.

For organizations with severe budget constraints, the cloud PC model offers the additional advantage of extending the shelf life of legacy PCs. Strip out the hard drive, and legacy PCs can be repurposed as cloud PCs, so long as you have the proper infrastructure in place.

5. You should be concerned about lagging broadband speeds

Each commercial Apple runs for the iPad increases the demand for video and rich media on constrained devices. Sure, iPad marketing targets general consumers, but enterprise customers are also excited about iPads, thin clients and cloud client computing.

Theoretically, tablet PCs connected to the cloud will let radiologists remotely view MRIs, allow college students to attend virtual classes and enable any number of virtual training scenarios. The instances where cloud-enabled rich media benefits the enterprise are practically endless.

That’s the theory. In practice, all of these scenarios face one big obstacle: broadband. In the U.S. especially, the pipes aren’t keeping up with the applications people want to send over them.

Put bluntly, broadband in the U.S. is a joke. Most providers advertise speeds of 10 Mbps and above, yet most end users never get anywhere close to those speeds. According to Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report, the average connection speed in the U.S. is 4.6 Mpbs. U.S. connection speeds lag behind Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, to name only a few. Top countries Japan (8.0 Mbps), Hong Kong (8.6 Mbps) and South Korea (16.6 Mbps) blow U.S. connection speeds out of the water.

Even worse, on the list of the top 100 cities worldwide for average connection speeds, the U.S. doesn’t even crack the top 50. The top U.S. city, Monterey Park, CA, comes in at number 76.

Even if the U.S. is pioneering cloud computing (and plenty of other tech innovations), it’s clear that our neglect of infrastructure, tech and otherwise, is rapidly becoming a competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies.

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