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Why the Cloud is here to stay

Cloud - Main Pic

Nowadays, “the cloud” has become a buzzword but some people say it’s the answer to every problem that we face in computing and mobile, while others are convinced it’s a flash-in-the-pan that will eventually fizzle out. Nobody knows for certain, but cloud computing is undeniably making inroads into every aspect of communications, from cloud-based smartphone storage and backup, to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that makes it easier for businesses to manage and scale their corporate IT systems.

How does this relate to the mobile industry? Smartphones are increasingly tied into consumer cloud services, small businesses are relying on the cloud for more applications and communications needs, and almost every modern business is transitioning at least some of its infrastructure to the cloud. Even Microsoft is now pushing a cloud-first, mobile-first strategy on the world.

What is the cloud for?

The many uses of the cloud include hosting business applications, email, hosted web applications, data protection and backup, and test and development.

As an example of the latter, mobile app developers can use cloud services to test their apps on every smartphone, through services such as Perfecto Mobile which “enables you to accelerate time-to-market for new mobile applications and services. MobileCloud Automation lets you develop and execute cross-device, keyword-based automation scripts on real devices connected to live carrier networks“. Let’s say you have developed an app and want to test it on an iPhone 5c, a Samsung Galaxy S5 and a Google Nexus 9 but don’t own any of those devices – no problem, just test it via a cloud service.

Benefits of the cloud

Improved availability, reduced costs, scalability and efficient use of IT resources to name just a few. And just as computing and telecommunications has evolved and become more powerful, the cloud is following a similar trajectory.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that most readers already have a basic understanding of what the cloud is and what it’s used for. But don’t worry if you’re in the camp of people confused by the cloud – you’re not alone, as even some high profile business leaders have famously misunderstood what it’s all about. Here’s a now infamous quote from Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison when asked about the cloud at a conference some years back:

The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?

Similarly, in 2012 Citrix conducted a survey among consumers, and found that hardly anyone knew what the cloud was either:

“First to mind when asked what ‘the cloud’ is, a majority respond it’s either an actual cloud, the sky, or something related to weather.” – Citrix Cloud Survey Guide (August 2012)

A friend recently told me he’d lost his mobile phone and didn’t have my number any more. If he’d had the foresight to use a service like iCloud he would have all his contact details, content and media stored online, able to be restored at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, he isn’t even using a smartphone!

When surveyed, many U.S. consumers who use cloud services described the ways in which their lives are improved – the top response was that it makes file sharing easier (41%), followed by peace of mind regarding data backups.

Cloud - Consumer Survey
File sharing is the most popular cloud-based service for many consumers in the USA.

 

Cloud computing facts

For those who still argue the cloud is not gaining traction, here are some miscellaneous facts from the Internet that relating to cloud adoption:

  • Cloud spending is projected to rise to $155 billion in 2014
  • Personal cloud traffic will rise from 6 exabytes in 2014 to 20 exabytes in 2017
  • 94 percent of organisations surveyed are running applications or experimenting with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS)
  • 87 percent of organisations use public cloud services
  • 14% of companies downsized their IT after cloud adoption
  • 82% of companies saved money in their last cloud adoption project
  • At least 90% of companies saw at least one area of improvement in their IT departments after moving to the cloud.
  • 52% reported increased data centre efficiency while 47 percent companies said that they witnessed lower operating costs after cloud adoption
  • 80% of companies experienced improvements within six months of moving to the cloud
  • Small businesses face less workforce resistance to cloud adoption

Lots of similar statistics can be found in the 2014 State of the Cloud Survey.

And some additional top-level data, courtesy of Statista.com:

Market Overview Values
Market growth forecast for public IT cloud services worldwide 18.4%
Global consumer cloud IP traffic 1,923 EB/yr
Global revenue generated from public cloud computing services $154.69bn
Global cloud service revenue from storage services $2.35bn
Worldwide Software as a Service (SaaS) revenue $23.72bn
Global cloud service revenue from the e-commerce enablement segment $7.33bn

What needs does the cloud fulfil?

Modern cloud services provide solutions to very real problems. For example, as highlighted by Gartner in the quote below, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) enables companies to save on infrastructure and maintenance costs by subscribing to applications that live in the cloud, paying monthly as long as the software is required, with the ability to scale up at short notice or cancel immediately.

…business leaders everywhere are bypassing IT departments to get applications from the cloud (also known as software as a service, or SaaS) and paying for them like they would a magazine subscription. And when the service is no longer required, they can cancel that subscription with no equipment left unused in the corner. – Daryl Plummer, Gartner analyst

Customer service is one area in which cloud services can benefit small businesses. For example, you might expect your Internet Service Provider to have an online portal where you can pay your bills and check subscription details, but you might not expect a family-run furniture store to invest in the hardware and resources to start a website (a necessity in today’s web-based economy). As cloud services take off, it’s becoming easier than ever to host small web applications in the cloud, beneficial because small and medium sized companies often can’t afford to buy racks of servers, employ an IT expert, or build data centres. However, many small companies do need the applications that such technologies afford. This is where the cloud comes in, allowing them to take advantage of economies of scale for web hosting and applications. The cloud also helps to level the playing field, as it’s not solely for large corporations, but enables the small players to get in on the action too.

Cloud services must also provide robust security, something that SMB’s typically struggle with as they can’t afford a huge security budget that an in-house IT department would bring. Cloud providers must demonstrate they offer strong security for every device whether it’s a desktop PC, tablet or smartphone. Unfortunately for consumers, many of the cloud services that we’re most familiar with (such as Dropbox, Apple iCloud, and even Microsoft Azure), have succumbed to some very high profile security leaks over recent years. Even more worrying was the US government’s secretive PRISM initiative which came to light in 2013 – a clandestine mass surveillance data-gathering program, one of several which could directly tap into data stored in the Google and Yahoo private clouds. On the whole however, the benefits of using cloud infrastructure still outweighs the potential security risks.

Who are the most popular public cloud services (a public cloud is where the services are delivered over a network open for public use, whereas a private cloud is within the corporate network under the control of the IT department) in use today? Google makes it into the top ten, but by far the most popular is Amazon Web Services (AWS):

Cloud - Top Public Clouds
According to RightScale’s State of the Cloud Report, the top public cloud is AWS.

 

Variety in the cloud

The cloud provides lots of things: storage, applications, and even virtual infrastructures. For example, you could virtualise almost every single piece of corporate computer equipment and host those boxes in a cloud service, allowing you to deliver the familiar desktop experience over a “thin client” such as an entry level laptop – thereby requiring only minimal IT equipment in the office.

The cloud is also of benefit to companies that need to scale quickly such as during peak demand, for example online stores which are too small to have their own data centre, but need something more powerful and scalable than a simple shopping cart. It’s this type of capability that the cloud supports so well.

Cloud - Amazon Web Services
As one of the most popular cloud service providers, Amazon Web Services offers incredible variety.

 

Now that the diversity of cloud-based applications and services has expanded, anyone can get hosted in the cloud at a reasonable price without having to buy their own servers and storage equipment. For example, services which are becoming popular include office productivity suites (think Microsoft 365), Customer Relationship Management software (such as Salesforce), and point of sale systems like Leaf.

How the cloud differs

Apart from the obvious cost savings, there are other sound financial reasons to use the cloud where possible. Because it’s not considered hardware (some might say it’s not really even software in the traditional sense of the word), it’s not necessary to capitalise your investment in the cloud. So eliminating capital expenditure and reducing costs are compelling reasons to adopt cloud services as a solution to very real problems. There is also no depreciation to consider – everything is hosted and maintained by the cloud service provider.

So for any company with their own IT department, there are many reasons to transfer at least some of those IT systems to the cloud – besides the fact that connections to the Internet for consumers and businesses are now cheaper and more reliable than ever, complete with relevant service level agreements for business use, and tools to monitor network availability and connectivity.

Why is the cloud here to stay?

Data stored independently from devices can be accessed remotely using cloud computing – the cloud keeps that data secure and separate from desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets, which can easily become lost or broken.

Cloud - Apple iCloud
Apple’s iCloud service keeps user data in sync.

More capable features

Despite security concerns over storing data in the cloud on systems that can and have been compromised, there are now better tools to alert users about security failures and threats. This will become increasingly necessary to help companies anticipate and react to possible breaches in future. Similarly, as cloud services become more popular, hundreds more data centres are springing up, ensuring that access to the cloud will be more consistent with increased uptime and resilience.

Personalisation of the cloud

The personal cloud is one that many readers of Mobile Industry Review will already be familiar with. Services like Apple’s iCloud enable users to automatically synchronise and share all their data with every device. This type of service has now become familiar to consumers, and one that many people would struggle to do without. Extending the idea even further is the home cloud – a similar concept which allows everyone in a household to access their own group data, usually stored centrally on a networked disk or media server at home.

The outlook

The cloud is set to become more ubiquitous during the next few years. Even as smartphones and other devices possess ever-increasing local storage, cloud services link them together in a way that is almost invisible to users but and helps them to secure and share their content, no matter what device they are using.

Many companies have already adopted a cloud approach, and that will only become an even more important consideration for organisations’ IT departments. Both public and private cloud infrastructure (or a hybrid approach) will combine to meet their requirements for applications and services, which will ultimately lead to enormous benefits both for businesses and consumers alike.

It seems that the cloud really is here to stay…

To find out more about the evolution of cloud computing, you can read more at the Future of Cloud Computing 4th Annual Survey 2014.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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