An exciting technological trend is emerging that will undoubtedly change the way we interact with computers, software, and each other. Termed “cloud computing“, which implies basing software and hardware computing requirements remotely on the Internet, and showing increased acceptance and utilization within both consumer and business environments, it stands to completely alter how we create, store, manipulate, transfer, and access data.
Recently, Microsoft began initial limited trials of its Office Live suite of online productivity programs, which are entirely cloud based. These are essentially online versions of its blockbuster Office software package for word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and database creation. Targeted to directly compete with Google’s Apps in the cloud marketplace, it is another example of technologies converging such that the Google verses Microsoft battle continues to rage.
The posturing of these two giant tech companies within this specific cloud based software space is a solid indication of more software and service evaporation into the cloud. Already, online storage solutions, such as that offered by Mozy and SkyDrive, are gaining widespread acceptance and popularity. Virus scanners like TrendMicro’s Housecall reside entirely online. And Amazon’s Web Services provides “companies of all sizes with an infrastructure web services platform in the cloud”.
But why would anyone want to partake in this migration to cloud based services? With Google’s recent announcement that it will index publicly published documents into its search engine results, won’t people be worried that the contents of their documents could come up in a Google search, either intentionally or through some other privacy breach? And what about the fact that companies and individuals will essentially be forced to pay monthly subscription rates for cloud based services instead of ever actually owning a piece of software? With more data being sent to and from the cloud, won’t broadband usage caps be stressed as people and businesses access less data locally?
While these are valid concerns, cloud based computing has many inherent advantages as well. Since data stored in the cloud is done so on enterprise grade equipment and via highly redundant configurations, concerns about local equipment failure and its associated costs are eliminated. Data becomes untethered to local machines…an important advantage in an increasingly mobile world where data access cannot depend on a person’s physical location. And subscriptions to software will ensure that users always get the most up to date service and support.
From the end users perspective, cloud computing will make life easier. Its another example of the what the Internet can achieve as it matures. The big question, though, is what’s next?