ITProPortal caught up with Chris Rothwell, Microsoft's small and medium business channel development manager, to chat about a subject that seems to be growing more and more important by the day – cloud.
It seems that, since January 2012, every year has been labelled "The year of cloud". Whether or not that irritates you, this particular topic is probably the biggest talking point in technology right now. According to Forrester, it will be the strongest technology sector in 2014, while IBM expects the global cloud market to be worth $200 billion (£122 billion) by 2020.
Microsoft has itself taken a huge leap into the cloud, with its Office 365 offerings and the appointment of Satya Nadella (formerly head of the Redmond-based firm's cloud and enterprise division) as its new CEO.
According to Chris, Office 365 is one of the company's fastest-selling products of all time and is proving popular with both large organisations and SMEs. For smaller outfits, the cloud is a means to level the business playing field – until now, they have always been priced out of such advanced technologies. On the other hand, larger organisations armed with the cloud offering now have more time to focus on activities with "more business value," according to Chris, rather than wasting resources performing menial tasks like maintaining servers.
Chris relays a quote from one of his customers, an IT manager, who recently made the decision to migrate his business processes to the cloud: "At the beginning of every year, we have a budget and we have a list of the things that we would like to do. We always run out of money, run out of time and never reach the bottom of the list. Now we've moved to the cloud we still run out of money, we still don't reach the bottom of the list, but we're getting a bit further down."
This sums up the power of the cloud pretty neatly. It is by no means the solution to all business challenges – Chris assures me that modern business can certainly function effectively without cloud services – but it certainly makes a huge number of tasks a lot easier.
The cloud also enables increased pace, flexibility and agility, which have become real work requirements in the mobile era. Leveraging the technology, employees can now operate from any location, with almost any smart device, as long as they have access to a decent Internet connection.
Chris believes that this empowerment of the employee is one of the cloud's greatest gifts. "People are always the engine of a business," he says. "Processes can be great and technology can be wonderful but, at the end of the day, it's people that create those – people that run them. People are creative, innovative, wonderful beings who want to solve lots of problems. You want to make them the most productive they can be."
However, it's easy to forget that the cloud is still only in its primary stages. Back in the early days of the World Wide Web, Chris remembers marvelling over static HTML web pages that most of us would probably sneer at today. The Internet has developed at a mind-blowing rate, and Chris thinks that the cloud will follow in similar footsteps.
"Right now, [the cloud is] changing the economics of the way we deliver service," he said. "I don't know what will happen with cloud computing over the next five or 10 years but it's really exciting to see some of the ways in which people are innovating.
"You may walk away from here and make some notes on your phone. I'm really interested in the way the cloud can begin to connect that phone experience, so that when you put your phone down and pick up your PC at home or in the office, that doesn't just mean that the data has synchronised, but actually that your experience feels more like a kind of rolling interaction with what it is that you're trying to do. That's where I think the cloud is most exciting and can begin to weave that together in a very ubiquitous way."