London Business School's technology and media clubs recently joined forces for the first time to host the 2011 Technology and Media Summit.
Around 200 attendees (a mix of students, alumni and local businesses) spent the day taking in a wide range of keynotes and panel discussions, including the future of gaming, online privacy, and augmented reality. As a cloud evangelist I was invited to join a panel discussing the economics of cloud computing, alongside representatives from Google, Microsoft and Scansafe.
We kicked off the session by attempting to define what the cloud is. Although we talked about multi-tenancy, operating expense and not owning any hardware, we all agreed that the cloud isn't about technology.
It’s about being able to run your business from where ever you are. It's being able to update your accounts whilst you're on the train, it's sending a client a quote before you've even left their office, or collaborating on a document in real-time with your colleague on the other side of the world. It's about doing what we do, better.
The session moderator, Parker Moss of the GSM Association, asked the audience to throw out words for the panel to discuss. “Security” was the first word to come back. And rightly so. If you're going to take your important company data outside of your office then you need to be 100 per cent confident in the provider you are using.
All clouds were not created equal, so you need to make sure that you've done the due diligence that's required, just as you would if you were buying a new piece of hardware, or recruiting an executive.
For the vast majority of businesses a leading cloud provider will have far higher levels of security than they could ever hope or afford to achieve themselves. In many ways, moving to the cloud is a bit like opening a bank account.
Even in the current economic climate we all keep our money in a bank. Banks are looking after far more money than just our own and we can access it from any cash machine, anywhere in the world. Our money is most at risk when we withdraw it - the same is true with data.
Another issue that came up was bandwidth, and the ability for users to access important data without a connection. Clearly the cloud relies heavily on having internet access. If you can't access the internet, you can't access the cloud. But whilst you might think that this is a big negative, in my opinion it's actually one of the benefits of being in the cloud
In the on-premise world your ability to work depends on one connection. In the cloud world your ability to work depends on getting any available connection - corporate, home broadband, wireless, or 3G.
If the internet connection in your office goes down you can simply pick up your phone, go to the coffee shop down the road, or go home. Regardless of where you are you can still access all of the business applications you need to keep working.
Although many cloud providers do offer offline versions - Google Docs offline is due to reappear, Salesforce.com provides off-line access to your records - I've found that I've never needed to use any of these features when the dreaded 'no connection available' message has appeared at the bottom of my screen.
Many of the attendees were particularly interested to know about the pace of adoption, and how Google and Microsoft hoped to push the cloud model forward, especially into new markets such as India and China.
All of the panellists agreed that a new breed of partner is essential. Cloud vendors need partners that live and breathe cloud and that are focused on the end user, not just the technology. There's nothing worse than giving someone the 'keys' to the cloud and not offering them any help, advice or after-sales care. It’s a cloud service provider's role to guide end users, help them understand these new technologies and show them how to share documents instead of email attachments.
And finally, one thing that became very clear when the floor was opened up for questions is that there's a lot of confusion in the marketplace. A lot of people are confused about what the cloud and what it isn't, if there's just one cloud or many, and why exactly they need to move to the cloud in the first place. It's clear to me that the industry needs to tighten up its messaging and avoid confusing potential customers with industry jargon and cloud-washing.
It's in business' best interest to do this. After all, nobody is going to buy into an idea if they don't understand what they're buying into or why they should.
Post by Charlie Cowan, CEO of cloud service provider Keboko