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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Internet Redux?

I found yesterday’s post to this blog particularly interesting. It highlights once again that while there is a lot of noise being made about cloud computing, no one can quite pin down a definition that works for everyone. In fact, it seems that some people don’t even believe that there is something called cloud computing, claiming it’s nothing more than a fancy way of describing what’s been happening on the Internet for years now.

I think the reality is somewhere in between. Cloud computing is an extension of some of the ways people have used the Internet for many years, but it’s also much more than a new way of looking at old methodologies.

Recently I had separate lunch meetings with two friends of mine who work for Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and VMWare. Both are very large global companies that have deep experience in enterprise IT so I figured that they’d have an opinion about cloud computing. I asked both of them how their companies view cloud computing and how important it is to the future of their perspective companies. Both had very similar responses.

Hitachi has three primary businesses on which it focuses – enterprise, OEM and consumer. According to my contact, the cloud will factor into all three. In the enterprise business, many companies are building their own internal private clouds and need increased mass storage. For those enterprises moving to public clouds, they often want to know what type of storage devices are being used to house their valuable corporate data. Where data resides is an important component to any company’s decision to move to the cloud, for security, compliance and back-up concerns.

Hitachi’s OEM customers put drives into many different types of machines for a variety of applications, but increasingly, according to my friend, the OEM’s are asking specifically about cloud computing applications. “The drives we sell to OEM’s are important, but how we help them custom build systems for their customers is also important. We have to understand the cloud to effectively market and sell to our OEMs so they in turn can sell to their customers.”

As for the consumer business, end users are storing more and more valuable information in the cloud. For instance, one consumer I know had all of her 1000 plus pictures of her young son stored with Shutterfly, which is essentially an end-user application for storing photographs and videos in the cloud. This woman is nervous that all of her pictures were being stored “somewhere out in the ether,” as she called it, so she bought a 500 GB external hard drive to back up all of her photos. Marketing to this type of customer is something Hitachi sees as an important growth opportunity.

In all three instances – enterprise, OEM and consumer – Hitachi has to understand how cloud computing is impacting customers’ behavior in order to effectively market to them. “The cloud isn’t our only focus,” my friend at Hitachi told me, “but it’s rapidly becoming the most important area for our marketing efforts.”

The same thing is basically true for VMWare. Many analyst firms and cloud computing "gurus” often list VMWare as one of the top 5 to 10 cloud computing companies based on its strong position in the virtualization market. They may be surprised to learn that the company didn’t make a decision to go “all in” on cloud computing until December 2009, according to my friend at VMWare,.

“We view cloud computing as fundamentally changing the way business is done, similar to the way the Internet changed business 10 or 15 years ago,” he told me.

That’s why VMWare spent four months hammering out a corporate strategy and corresponding marketing program designed to address cloud computing before it rolled it out to the industry in March 2010. VMWare understands that its customer base is migrating to cloud computing and therefore it must respond accordingly.

“Every aspect of our marketing efforts now take the cloud into account,” my VMWare contact told me. “Be it private cloud, a public cloud solution or some type of hybrid. To ignore the cloud is like ignoring the Internet. That just doesn’t make business sense.”

The debate about the definition of cloud computing will surely rage into the future. What is clear, however, is that cloud computing is real, and that if companies don’t factor it into their marketing programs they are likely to lose customers. Just as those companies in the mid-1990s that buried their heads in the sand and pretended that the Internet was just a “trend” ended up either in the scrap heap or left far behind by more forward-thinking competitors.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Is Cloud Computing Bringing us Back to the Future?

ThoseinMedia, a web site where media professionals connect and blog, has a group on the social networking site LinkedIn where it promotes itself as "THE group for Media Professionals." Its membership includes people working in social, online and broadcast media, advertising sales, PR, SEO and pretty much every other media category you can think of. It's a popular LinkedIn group with thousands of members and as you'd expect, its members are highly engaging. If you work in media and you're not a member, you'll be doing yourself a favor by checking it out. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a member.

Exactly three weeks ago, an online marketing and social media strategist for a U.K. provider of domain names and Internet services -- GroupNBT -- posted an open ended question to the ThoseinMedia group on LinkedIn: "Cloud Computing - What's your take on it?"

Three weeks later, group members continue to post responses to Francois Hotte's seemingly innocent question -- though the question isn't that innocent since Hotte's company sells a "Virtual Private Server" which, he says, is a "similar product to Cloud computing." Ok, so he's selling a bit, but I give him credit for engaging the group's membership on a very interesting topic.

What's really interesting to me is that responses to the question are coming from all corners of the world and from a broad range of industries and professional disciplines; and from the very young and the not-so-young. If it takes a discussion of cloud computing to get Gen Y talking with Baby Boomers, then it's a good thing.

One year ago, McKinsey&Company published "Clearing the Air on Cloud Computing" and in it claimed there are 22 separate definitions of the cloud. One year later, and based on some of the opinions reflected by ThoseinMedia group members, it isn't clear if we're any closer to a unified definition. But what is clear and what is important is that the discussion around cloud computing is at a fever pitch. It's become a lightening rod for some of the most stimulating and provocative thinking in technology in recent memory and marketers and communicators everywhere are spending cycles trying to help their customers find clarity in the clutter.

I hope the thread on ThoseinMedia continues. If we keep working on it together, I bet we get to the point where we can agree on what cloud computing is.

Here are a few of my favorite comments from the thread:

"Like many others I hate the term 'cloud computing'. It's BS. The cloud is just the internet."

"I've seen EMC cut huge checks for not being able to protect and serve remote data. IBM shovels cloud computing services like they're going out of style, and they're no experts either."

"The term 'Cloud Computing" may have a marketing connotation, but its widespread adoption by companies offering web-based applications means the 'cloud,' as it were, really is different than just the plain-old Internet."

"The simplest cloud computing I use is zumodrive. It is easy to use and it allows me to access my files regardless of where I am."

"Cloud is not the internet...What Cloud is, is the business model that takes virtualization and makes it a profitable opportunity for infrastructure providers on a 'one to many' basis -- build it once and sell it to many uses."

"Think of the Cloud Server as the mainframe, and each computer connected to it as a 'smart terminal' capable of processing its own data. ...Today's Cloud Computing almost brings us full-cirlce, back to the mainframe-terminal relationship."

"With iPhones, iPads and other devices like these for on the go and on the spot information, 'Cloud computing' is only going to increase. Welcome 2010 (grin)."

And this one from the head of a NYC-based marketing and advertising firm: "With all due reverence to the interesting insights offered above, I would just like to point out that the term 'cloud' in 'cloud computing' is a decades old reference to the original cloud-like diagrammatic representation of Public Switched Telephone Networks."

Is that really true?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An End User's Perspective of the Cloud

It will take a complete newcomer to the cloud about 15 minutes to realize one cloud size does not fit all. Much is written about the enterprise and its concerns over security, governance, compliance and configuration. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, a declining handful of skeptics still debate whether enterprise cloud computing will fulfill its promise.

But the debate does not encompass the millions of us who have been using the cloud -- knowingly or not -- for years.  In fact, most of us are pretty satisfied customers. In its most basic form, the cloud offers us the ability to store our data somewhere decentralized and access it from anywhere we have an Internet connection. The cloud reduces our worries about where our data is, whether it’s backed up, and where and how we access it.  It also makes it easier to collaborate and communicate.  If you use Gmail, Facebook or LinkedIn, you're in the cloud. Chances are, you use these and other applications from a computing device -- Windows, Mac or Linux and a mobile device -- Android, iPhone OS or Windows Mobile. In most cases, all you need is a password to authenticate yourself, and you have access to information that you store and manage on a range of incredible applications via the cloud.

As an example, I'm writing a draft of this blog on Evernote, a cloud application that I have become dependent on for a number of uses in ways that I would never have envisioned just a few years ago.  I write my draft in Evernote, and Evernote keeps a duplicate of my notes on their web servers and automatically synchs the local copies of my notes. So my information is accessible locally from my MacBook Pro and through the Evernote web interface via my Macbook Pro, my iPad and my iPhone.  In fact, I can install and synch my notes with as many computing devices as I choose.  That is the power of the cloud for an end user and the beauty of Software as a Service (SaaS).  Evernote users don't have access to infrastructure; Evernote does that for us.  All we do is access the application we need -- when we need it on the device we want at that point in time.

Evernote gives me redundancy of my notes and ensures that I will access them consistently over any device.  It lets me share my notes in a variety of ways that I control.  It instantly stores what I create and lets me find it easily the next time I need to access it.

While the debate continues over when and how enterprises will adopt the cloud as a replacement for data centers, millions of us who have had our heads in the cloud for several years would ask what all the debate is about.  The cloud works in ways that opens endless possibilities for us all.

Image reprinted from Cloud Computing Use Cases White Paper, Version 3.0, published by the Cloud Computing Use Case Discussion Group.