The Year of the Cloud

In the old world of IT, we were often asked questions such as "Do you think networks will take off?" "What do you think of these hard disks? I don't think much of them as I can store all my information on a floppy disk."

Today, these questions may sound trivial and infantile but with every new technological advance, these types of questions are asked again and again.

Having lived through over three decades of information technology, in some circles, I'm considered an IT guru, although quite frankly, much technology seems to go over my head due to the sheer abundance and diversity of the technological revolution.

As a concept, the Cloud is nothing new. Way back in the late 70s and early 80s, the majority of SMEs could not afford their own mainframe and so used to purchase time, applications and storage on systems provided by vendors who used to rent their mainframes out.

Many of my customers used to dial in on a device known as an acoustic coupler which is a box that you would plug the headset of a phone into. The phone itself was wired to a terminal and you would then run applications and programs using this connection at the fantastic speed of 30baud (which is roughly 30 characters per second) - a far cry from today's Megabit speeds.

What is new - is the technological innovation, the security issues (in those days, hackers were not very abundant, if at all) and the amount of service level agreements involved but I digress a little.

To really hammer the point about clouds, let me recap some other interesting comments and questions made in the 80s and 90s.

Back in the 80s there was a small company that had made its way to the UK and had offices in Windsor, as an IT company we used to supply its software to many of our customers. In that company was an operator who used to tell us about this little piece of software that could send messages to and from their colleagues. One of their comments was that it was a great bit of software, but it was very unlikely to catch on. The company in question was called Lotus and the product was its first ever email product.

Every technological marvel, whether it be hard disks, floppy disks, usb sticks, emails, mobile phones, text messaging, the Internet (yes even the Internet), virtualisation, and many many others over the last few decades have suffered from the same questions..."Are they any good?", "Will they take off?", "Don't you think they're crazy for adopting...", "When will xyz take off?"

The cloud is here today, right now and many businesses are taking advantage of it. There won't be a specific year when everyone will suddenly adopt the cloud it will just happen and is happening.

The real questions businesses should be asking are:

  • What competitive advantages can a cloud offering provide me?
  • What are the risks, and fall-backs in place should anything go wrong?
  • If my business wishes to switch cloud vendor, how easy is it to do?
  • Can the cloud application grow and shrink as my business negotiates the turbulent ebb and flow of today's business environment?

At the corporate executive programme - a non-profit organisation consisting of a diverse collection of senior executives from top 500 corporations and SMEs - this discussion is no longer about what is the cloud and whether they should adopt the cloud, many of them already have. The discussion is more about the service level agreements, the legal aspects, the flexibility and agility that cloud services can provide their business executives, and how cloud services can reduce their security, compliance and auditing issues.

These businesses are already harnessing the "so called power of the cloud," and just as with the Internet, web-sites, and virtualisation, it is the late adopters that are having their competitive advantage eroded.