Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The big hard drive in the sky


What does "cloud" mean to people who will be the next generation to enter our businesses?

On my way to Oxford last week I visited Paddington Station and as I walked down the narrow street that leads onto the main concourse I could not help but notice the assemblage of hoardings each extolling the virtues of Microsoft Office 365 (Your complete Office in the Cloud).

I have to admit the one that grabbed my attention said; “Get free WiFi in this station courtesy of Office 365”, as I needed to check my e-mail and post some slides online.

In Oxford I met with a group of open-minded and motivated business people who had asked if I could paint a picture of how university students use ‘IT’ and computing. It did not take long for the conversation to move onto cloud and how people in their late teens, twenties and early thirties are using it.

There has been a great deal of hype about cloud and forecasts seem to indicate that worldwide spending on public cloud services by 2016 could be anything from $75M - $100M.

The figure I find actually much more interesting is that this year (2013) the number of people using cloud services worldwide will probably top 500 Million – that is about 7% of the global population! 


The world has changed over the last decade and the ability to access our content wherever we are, on any device owned by us, or by others has become important both in our personal and public lives.

Andy Lippman (MIT) is someone I can rely on for incredibly insightful one-liners and he summed up cloud in 2010 as; “The infinite back-end” and the social trend underlying its use as; “We not Me communications”.

However "the cloud" is perhaps not quite as simple as we might imagine.



Take a moment to think about all the content that you store online, if we include social networks and communications portals as well as the more traditional content hosting sites the picture is pretty complicated.





The interesting paradox is that at the same time physical storage has become both low cost and highly accessible, so we could carry everything we need with us wherever we go.  (A quick look on the web shows USB Terabyte Drives for around £50).



But to really understand how and why the cloud will be used in the future we must look at how those growing up in our technology enabled world use it. It is these people who will shape businesses large and small in the future.



So what is the reality of cloud use by the next generation of business people?

Click Image to Enlarge

I think that this is nicely answered by something one of my younger friends said about the cloud when asked what it was, she said with a smile; “the big hard drive in the sky”, the image this conjures up is magic.

It is worth taking a moment to think about how we shared content before the many free services that exist today, because the services they offer are different in way that is important. (Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive etc.)

Prior to these the only way to share files with friends or colleagues was to have your own web presence (web-site) with a suitable file transfer protocol application, such as for example WinFtp or ClassicFTP.

This system which could be both secure and reliable generally required OperatingSystem specific applications and some knowledge of set up procedures, whereas the on-line applications today will operate across Operating Systems and require virtually no set up, as well as being able to operate purely on-line, so not requiring any software to be resident on the device accessing them. 

And this is the key difference in both usability and accessibility!


When I meet with students they don’t carry paper copies of their work to our meetings they just either show me the work on their tablet / laptop or they ask if they can use my laptop, log into their cloud storage and call up the latest version, in seconds. When they are working they access the cloud across many devices and often use those devices simultaneously.



And it is not just younger people! When I complete the draft of a presentation for a meeting I don’t send the file, as it will be media rich and quite large, I upload it to a cloud site and send a link, as do most of my colleagues. This has the advantage of saving space and time AND making the file available wherever I am.

Also I don’t need to remember where I put a paper I wrote ten years ago I just go to my online repository and call it up, at my age this is a definite enhancement for my memory! This has the added advantage that if I have remembered to tag the paper either at time of upload or later, then Google will probably be able to find it in the cloud (as long as I can remember something of the title or content), this is REALLY useful.

Concerns continue about the security and privacy of cloud storage and with relatively few individuals paying for services at present companies are treating their basic service as a loss leader and this model will mature with time. However this may explain why many people who use the cloud still have a personal high capacity storage device as backup. 

So back to my original question: What does "cloud" mean to people who will be the next generation to enter our businesses?

It is somewhere they can communicate and share both ideas and experiences with friends and colleagues, sometimes just sitting next to them and sometimes thousands of miles away. As Andy says; “We not Me communications”.




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