Brett King

Computing in the cloud

In Retail Banking, Technology Innovation on December 18, 2009 at 11:36

Excerpt from Chapter 10: Gridless Customer Experience – More complexity, More choice

As we become more mobile, a great deal more of what we do will need to become detached from our work computer, laptop or enterprise network server. The ability to get access to our data and core applications on the move is one simple example. Restricting this data to physical devices in one specific location is not going to work. So the trend has been for laptops to get more capable so that we can carry them with us. But laptops still have to deal with access to corporate data, security issues and such regardless of their portability.

For this reason, Google, IBM, Apple, and even Microsoft are making various bets on what is known as cloud computing. Cloud computing is an emerging computing technology that uses the internet and central remote servers to maintain data and applications. It allows the use of applications without installation and allows users access to their personal data and files using any device that has internet access. Cloud computing abstracts users from their applications and data by providing those facilities via the browser effectively, making storage requirements minimal and leaving processing to the cloud rather than requiring heavy processing capability. It does, however, rely very heavily on bandwidth to get expeditious results.

Although Windows still runs on 90% of PCS and laptops, the fading importance of the PC means that Microsoft is no longer all-powerful. While some look to Google’s Chrome OS and Apple’s OS? to produce a viable competitor to Windows, the fact is that with increasing reliance on mobile devices, App Phones and other device platforms, the role of the PC operating system is not necessarily a key driver in the future of computing.

While there are hundreds of firms offering cloud services—web-based applications living in data centres – Microsoft, Google, IBM and Apple play in a league of their own. Each of these firms has their own global network of data centres and they are working on a whole suite services within the ‘cloud’. Such tools and services being touted include e-mail, address books, storage, collaboration tools and business applications. App Phones or smart devices will add to the mix, with various approaches to widgets and applications, some from within the browser and others integrating with the cloud.

Apple has recently started to make a foray into cloud computing in a major way. Apple is building a $1 Billion data centre in North Carolina (USA), possibly the largest of any in the world. MobileMe® is the first of a series of online services based on cloud computing that are designed to create new revenue streams for the tech giant. MobileMe is designed to connect all of your devices and push information up and down to keep everything synced and up to date. iDisk, incorporated into MobileMe, gives you 20GB of remote hard disk space for storing files that are too big to email, photo galleries, and such. MobileMe even allows you to find your iPhone if you’ve lost it.

While Microsoft has launched Office Live as an attempt to win over cloud enthusiasts, their poor mobile showing in recent times against both Apple and Google’s Android might affect their ability to dominate the cloud as they have the PC market. Motorola’s ditching of Microsoft Mobile in favour of Google’s Android platform may just be another nail in the MS Mobile coffin.
The question remains as to what services work, and what revenue models will drive cloud computing. For corporations the business case is simple, shifting to the cloud reduces infrastructure costs and moves platform and application costs to an OpEx (Operating Expense) model instead of CapEx (Capital Expense). In the current economic environment this has to be promising. Distributed platform access and the benefit of data centres in the cloud, also creates more opportunities for more agile institution operations and different models such as telecommuting, homeshoring, pop-up branches and so forth.

If you are sitting there reading this right now with some scepticism about the possibilities of the cloud, think about this. Arguably the most successful cloud computing service today, with more than 350 million users is Facebook. If you can’t get your head around that – think about it. It is completely run through your browser or app widgets. It allows users to collaborate, share information and communicate online – all things that businesses want to do to…

Whether Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft or another contender like Amazon or Facebook is able to dominate the cloud space, is not really the issue. The issue is that if you are a decision maker in a business you need to think about whether some of your core infrastructure, platform or applications would be better placed in the cloud so that your workforce can be more innovative and productive. It can be just as secure as your own dedicated infrastructure, plus you get the benefit of much more mature UI (User Interface) and shared services.

One of the more interesting elements to think about with cloud computing is what happens to the role of the bank in payments. If the majority of payments processes on a consumer and B2B space are increasingly deployed within the cloud, then the need for such services provided by banks to their customers directly becomes effectively redundant. After all, Pay Pal is already in the cloud…

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