Monday, 15 August 2011

Why is The Cloud Different This Time Around?

As Marc Benioff of put it, 'The Cloud is so passé.' He's right, companies like his have sold Software as a Service (SaaS), the forerunner of The Cloud, for years. I started PlaceWare Europe back in 1999 same as Webex. The Cloud is in many ways old hat.

There is nothing new about SaaS. It has been poo-poo'd for years. Even being one of the fastest growing and most profitable software companies hasn't really shaken the tree much for some industry veterans. There is a healthy scepticism that vast majority of software sales in the future will be one per machine and on-premise. The traditional way. I mean, people want to touch and feel their investment, don't they?

So what's going to make calling SaaS a new name like 'The Cloud' change things? Well, the internet has a small part to play. Actually, strike that - it has everything to do with it. The one thing that the internet has done is to give an equal voice to a lone individual like me to a large corporation. Sure a large company can spend a lot of money to be heard more but my words have equal rights around here. I can use the scale of the internet to my advantage. And that's fundamentally what The Cloud is about.

The Cloud gives scale. So if you are already big, you might see The Cloud differently. But if your are small, then The Cloud is your advantage. By leveraging infrastructure in The Cloud like storage, servers, and security your small organisation can afford to behave like a large one without all that huge capital cost. By effectively renting assets we can all scale our organisations smoothly. IT should never hold us back from being successful in selling our products in the future.

That's the way I see it. I don't have to scale my organisation by leasing more premises, I can be mobile and agile as a workforce. I don't have to have vast file storage areas or data centres - all that can be somewhere in the ethereal vapour called The Cloud.

But why is it different now when 10 years ago the same arguments applied? To use one word - Google. To use two - Google, Apple.

Google were founded in the web and grew up there. From search engine upstart to operating system and office productivity apps and a load more cool stuff in between. Google have made the first serious challenge to a world dominated by the PC and Microsoft. And they have the money to sustain it. You will have never, ever have received a CD with Google software on it because it doesn't exist. The web is the platform.

Apple saw the change. In their stealth tactics of giving people and executives gadgets, they have crept back into the Corporate world. Now more employees are using Apple technology for business than ever. Yet to work an iPad or iPhone you have no CD that comes with the box. Your entire interface with the world is via The Cloud.

Commerce has changed in the last 10 years. As the High Street declines, more business is done the web. Banking, insurance, gadgets, flowers, groceries, flights, holidays and even auctions all occur in The Cloud. In fact, it's a surprise that any software really exists on the desktop machines anymore that hasn't been served via The Cloud as so much has changed. Instead of handing my family USBs of photos of my new child, I post the pictures on Facebook, Dropbox or Photobucket. Not just one or two. Hundreds of them. For free.

While so much of the above has been aimed at consumers, Google and Apple hatched the plan to capture the Corporate, Business-to-Business world. By using the ubiquitous growth of how we use The Cloud, it has become business-grade in its robustness and security.

People worry about security. Why? Windows is the single most hacked operating system in the world. It's also horribly unreliable. I have just upgraded to Windows 7 and it's so buggy it leaves shadows on my screen of command buttons used several screens ago. It's that basic. And yet we put up with it. Apple and Google are refining their software daily and serving their users at the same rate. And we transact millions of highly confidential business deals every second over The Cloud. Security for small businesses will never have been so good.

But more than anything, scale brings cost savings. How much would it have cost me to buy install and manage a server just for MS Exchange and the storage for my emails and back ups? Don't know - don't worry about it. For £189 a year, I have all I need - Exchange, Office 2010 and 25Gb of storage. What about the server? Who cares?

Sure, there are lots of things to consider like uptime, security and data protection but those are normal business governance issues and many of them are not solved as well on premise to give robustness to a business - disaster recovery is a myth in most companies below the FTSE 250. The Cloud gives solutions to all these problems without massive capital outlay and massive ongoing management costs.

The Cloud means that IT should never again tell you how to run your business. Google and Apple have validated this market, now all the others are clamouring to get their stake in there too. Most are hastily re-writing some of their traditional applications, working out how to fool us they are in The Cloud and then trying to retain profits by amortising the costs monthly. How disappointing, in most cases. You see Google, Apple,, NetSuite and the likes have shown us real innovation by embracing what The Cloud is about. Microsoft are showing us how to shoehorn old, tired and resource-hogging products into some kind of half-world.

Innovation is the key here. Just this weekend the Sunday Telegraph reviewed 30 top new Apps for your Smartphone just for motoring. You can now get your car valued at the touch of a phone keypad while getting the directions to that country pub you are visiting.

The Cloud has changed the way we receive our Apps and the price we pay for them. That's innovation and commercial genius in one. That's why The Cloud is both a serious proposition and is here to stay. Business never saw a use for mobile phones at the start. The rest is history. Texting was just a back channel in the mobile phone industry until consumers showed the use. Business followed.

The Cloud is here and it will revolutionise business. Software will never be the same again. that's not an original thought by me, it's a fact.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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