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BW Businessworld

The Year Of The Cloud

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 Just about everyone agrees. Year 2010 will see a headlong leap into the Cloud. The cloud is the phrase du jour for the internet, but it’s more than just pleasantly fuzzy tech fashion. It means that much of what we do will move from desktops and company servers to services and applications on the Web in a free-form, seamless model, accessible from anywhere and from anything with connectivity. 

Some cloud applications and services are free for the public, and we use them already, but for the most part, when we talk about cloud computing it’s about pay-as-you-go solutions for enterprises — and that’s what is set to take off this year as the value proposition for CEOs gets stronger.
As the world creeps out from under the hard rock of a recession, and looks squinty eyed with some optimism to the year ahead, the potential of some technologies and models that have been discussed, and hyped for years, begins to get consideration that is more practical. Analyst topdog Gartner estimates that the market for cloud services will go from $50 billion today to $150 billion through to 2013. The reason cloud computing makes sense is that affordability and cost reduction is a very real possibility — although that is by no means the only benefit for a company that adopts the cloud.
Leverage The Cloud 
Anything from infrastructure to applications to full-fledged services and solutions can be in the cloud. At an individual level, many of us have used cloud computing when we work with the host of applications Google offers: documents, e-mail, calendars and more. At an enterprise level, this is magnified to include whole on-demand services, data storage, collaboration and networking in a coherent, integrated business process.
The client enterprise pays per use and reduces its investment in hardware and data storage, infrastructure, maintenance and other resources. In the US, they like to equate this model with how they pay for and use electricity. But seeing how our power situation sometimes gets, we will not get into that analogy any deeper.
So, even if cloud computing sounds as abstract and fuzzy as its shape to many in the world of business, it is time for smart companies to begin figuring out how they could leverage it.
Cloud computing tops Gartner’s selection of technologies that will be strategic for enterprises, and the analyst firm urges CEOs to explore how it fits with their business plans. It isn’t an easy task because definitions of what exactly fits into the cloud computing domain and what doesn’t vary widely, and so do the services people are 
offering — and will in the future.
Affordability aside, there are other advantages to cloud computing. Instant access to technology, flexibility, a whole lot of choice and the freedom to exercise them, and leaving it all to a service provider without worrying about maintenance or obsolescence. 
At the same time, newfangled as it all sounds, there will be a huge variety of equally cloudy issues to sort out, including pricing, security, support, and so on.
Many IT companies are already providing cloud computing solutions (Google, Amazon, GoGrid, VMware, AppNexus, Sun, IBM, to name a few). Some of the models are SaaS (software as a service) with which an application is delivered through a browser to customers, Utility computing, with which a company can access virtual servers, Web services and platform as a service (PaaS) for developers to build their own applications. There’s also the managed-service-provider model, where a service such as antivirus scanning can be offered.
Expect A Clear Sky Next Year
Many more companies will bring in a variety of cloud services over the year. For each of these, the focus is different and the amount of support given to users is variable. One can only hope that through the year, there is at least some clarity in the cloud. Potential cloud consultants, take note.
If 2009 was the year of social media (Nielsen Online says Twitter grew 1,382 per cent year-on-year in February), then 2010 will only see more growth in this area. So all those who are hoping Twitter, Facebook and other time-wasters will just de-fad and go away — forget it.
Over 2009, Twitter showed how real-time resonates with people and how it can be used to build up contacts, brands, experts and communities. Professionals from different fields, and many businesses, jumped right in. Now, as more applications, filters and tweaks develop, giving users more choices, there may well be more closed networks. Businesses will try and get more value out of social networking.
But it’s the killer combination of social networking and mobility that will really catch fire. Innovation on mobile devices isn’t stopping anytime soon, and there will be more and better support for social media. You can already see it on the iPod Touch, iPhone Droid, Nokia’s smartphones and other gadgets.
The same is likely to happen with e-readers and other devices. So essentially, wherever you can connect, you must have social media applications. Information technology industry analysts IDC predicts that one billion mobile devices will access the internet in 2010. The number of mobile internet users will double by 2013, with a big chunk coming from India.
Open Source To Get Stronger
The two most talked about companies over the year will continue to be Google and Apple. More and more apps are expected to be available in the iTunes store — some say too many. Awaited from Apple are a new iPhone and a possible iPad, the unofficial name for a sort of tablet computer that could overshadow e-readers. E-readers and netbooks are, of course, predicted to grow in any case.
And what of Microsoft in 2010? Well, it’s no longer the newsmaker it once was. All I can say is that it will have one foot in its core business and the other running to catch up with newer trends. Behind the scenes, open source and Linux will quietly get stronger. 
And finally, the greening of technology will be a preoccupation throughout the year and beyond. I doubt that anything dramatic will happen, but pockets of innovation will definitely appear. All in all, a better year for technology up ahead.
Mala Bhargava is Editorial Director at Mindworks.
mala(dot)bhargava(at)gmail(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-01-2010)