Head in the Clouds

A lot has been written in the last few months about “cloud computing”. Basically, cloud computing is the generic term for computing services and applications that are hosted over the Internet. They can be as simple as web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail or Gmail. Or they can be more complex and full featured services such as Google Apps, which provide on-line word processing or spreadsheet software. Other companies such as Microsoft and Apple are taking steps to offer cloud computing services and applications.

If one were to read all that was being written about cloud computing, it wouldn’t be difficult to draw the conclusion that the future of computing is in the clouds – and that future is right around the corner. However, before taking that viewpoint, I have a few things for you to consider.

The reality is that “cloud computing” isn’t really a new concept. It has existed for years in various forms and names. Companies called Application Service Providers (ASP’s for short) have been around a long time providing hosted applications. Another name for cloud computing is Software as a Service (SaaS for short). Whatever it is called, the bottom line is that your software is hosted somewhere on the Internet, and not on your own servers or computers. This can be great if you or your employees are highly mobile. As long as they have an Internet connection they can access their software and data, virtually from any computer available. However, the fact that access to applications and data is completely dependent on an Internet connection can be a huge liability. It should be pretty obvious that if your Internet connection goes down or is not reliable, then you can’t access your software and data. Or if the service you are dependent on has problems, as both Google Apps and Gmail have done this year, you are out of luck as well.

In my mind, cloud computing will have its fit with highly mobile workers and some large organizations, but it will not filter down into the mainstream or small business until Internet services become a lot more reliable or redundant Internet services become extremely cost effective. As well, not all applications, such as digital media, are yet a good fit for cloud computing. So I foresee that while that the future may indeed be at least partially in the clouds, this future is going to take some time to get here.

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