Growing the cloud

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Lately, more of the activities that I do online is in the cloud.

So what online activities am I doing?

I use file storage like dropbox as a digital locker to store and share large files. This syncs with your computer and your mobile devices. At work, we use Sharepoint to share files, collaborate on word and excel documents online and save them back into the system. Having the files online makes it easier to access and also ensures there is only one copy people will work from.

When I want to listen to music, I jump onto YouTube and type in my favourite artist and find songs that I like. I’ve been mixing it up lately between MySpace, Grooveshark, Hype Machine, and Soundcloud. To be honest, I don’t have that much music on my computer. I mostly stream it from the cloud because there is an infinite collection online, fast access and play lists.

I spend a lot of time online also watching videos. Again, I love my YouTubes! But there’s also Vimeo and a bunch of other sites you can stream from. I look at my friend’s photos not on their computers but via Flickr and Facebook. That’s where we store our photos and share them with others.

What is the cloud?

The cloud is defined as:

The use of a Web services such as Flickr, Google Docs to perform the functions that were traditionally done with software installed on an individual computer.”

Penn State Learning Hub Community Glossary

Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand, like electricity.”

Wikipedia

There is a big push from the digital industry to go cloud. Consumers are already there. Enterprises have started to as well. Its only a matter of time before all of our online activities are in the cloud.

What are the benefits of being in the cloud?

1. Not having to install software on your machine. When was the last time you had to update Gmail? Our corporate email has regular maintenance and scheduled downtimes. Now, computers all about getting online, as fast as possible. Deploy in the cloud = deployed everywhere.

2. Access anywhere, anytime. Of course, this is dependent on being in the range of fast internet access, so this is a coverage and bandwidth issue.

3. Mobile & Cloud is a great combo. Allows for greater connectivity and syncing between your devices. Your mobile can’t store that much compared to a desktop computer or laptop. For example, my mobile currently has 8GB memory expandable to probably to 32GB so the cloud makes sense. Being able to stream music, access files in the cloud, play games on an online network with other gamers is perfect for mobile. Fred Wilson has a few ideas here on monetizing mobile audio.

There are many other benefits for Enterprises like scalability, reducing your IT hardware costs, and IT support costs. Turns your capex into opex. There are 3 types of cloud computing – SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, but this is for another blog post.

The Cloud Agenda

There’s a really good video I watched last week about Zoho’s new cloud accounting offerring. Its similar to SaaSu, Freshbooks, etc…

What I found interesting about it, was towards the end of this video at 26min 5seconds, they discuss mobile and the cloud and the advantages of the cloud. Other cool stuff they discuss is having your car connected online and the ChromeOS Notebook (which is purely online, no software installation required).

What they are doing, whether they realise it or not is advocating the growth of cloud computing. Not just necessarily growing their piece of the pie, but the entire pie. Because its in everyone’s interest.


Consumers and enterprises benefit as more activity is in the cloud. You can see a lot of online companies now pushing the cloud agenda such as Zoho, Salesforce, Google and Atlassian. Even Microsoft has evolved their service offerring to incorporate cloud services.

As we become an increasingly connected society online, the cloud will only keep growing.

I’m out like software installation,

Matt Ho.

p.s. if you are interested in cloud computing, register for Cloud Camp on 25 Feb 2011.

Some more rambling thoughts…..

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1. PaaS – Platform as a Service. Now, I have become very interested (some may say obsessed) with the idea of the “cloud”. Its so elegant yet so simple. Store everything in the cloud i.e. online. I do this already with gmail, ical, google docs, wikis, Sales Force, book marks.

Its the idea that I don’t need to be at “my computer” to access all my information. I don’t need to carry around a USB stick, I just sent it to my gmail account. I can access my bookmarks via a bookmarking service like Delicious. I can access these bookmarks from any computer in any location. It is the same with google docs – any document that I make on google docs is available online. Google & delicious has become my computer, hence its so attractive.

This has spawned the idea of software as a service (SaaS) – you dont need to install any software on your computer. You just access it online. It’s the whole idea of Mailout, an application I support. You can access this email platform online, upload your database, push out emails from any computer. I use sales force for the same reason – all my business contacts, leads, virtually an entire CRM system is online in the cloud. Accessible when I want.

Now platform as a service I just came across today. I signed up to Force.com, an extension of salesforce.com. Its basically a platform from which I can build apps for my business. I can utilise existing apps, customise existing ones, or just create new ones. Its hard to describe but you can virtually create anything and its 5 times faster building an app on this platform than without one.

I love this idea. It’s like igoogle or even wordpress. The widgets are out there, I just plug them in or I can create them. PaaS and SaaS is just a smart business move. I save on the infrastructure, installation, running and customer service costs. The biggest impediments to these services are:

- Investment into existing infrastructure: If I have already spent several million dollars on servers and software, do i have an incentive to switch to the cloud? These are sunk costs which cannot be recovered.

- Security concerns: CIO’s and management are understandly terrified of having their information in the cloud. it presents a new security risk. Information could be more readily breached by external parties, because it is not restricted to people phyically present in the building.

- Uptime: its hard to put a guarantee on uptime (i.e the amount of time that the service is running and not down).

2. Conversations eventually move to email – where the heck is Wave?

Recently, a friend of mine posted a status update on facebook. Then I responded to her status update. However, I wanted to talk to her privately so I direct messaged her on facebook and we started talking using that format. She then emailed my gmail account. However, since I was at work I wanted to use my work email – it just made it easier to consolidate the conversation in one place and keep it going

This happened with other peopel as well. We start talking over facebook email or twitter direct message, but if we want to maintain the conversation, it has to go to email. It is just more convenient, i can write longer message and I can search and go back. I don’t always want to have public convo’s or perhaps I want to send an attachment.

What I find interesting is that if someone wants to talk to me, the conversation will eventually move to email.

That is why I cannot wait for Google Wave to arrive. Something that allows for me to converge my social networks and email together.

You can also see that Facebook’s strategy is starting to move away from a gated community. Facebook connect is great little login tool for other websites. You don’t need to sign up to another website, you just use your existing login details. But this is a post for another time.

3. Mobile Banking - I can’t wait for this to become mainstream. On Monday, I had dinner with a few people and I paid for someone as they didn’t have enough cash on them. The next day they transferred the money to my bank account. Another situation occured, where I sold a friend an entertainment book but they didn’t have enough money so they transferred the money later that day.

What would have been awesome is some kind of payment system for banking to occur on the spot. This is where mobile banking can come in. If we are at the dinner table and someone owes you money, they could transfer the money over their mobiles. Now mobile banking does exists via apps on iphone or simply logging in to your bank account on your internet enabled phone. However, it is not seen as secure nor is it widely adopted. Its actually been available for around 2 years, but hardly anyone uses it  - only early adopters.

This is better than smart cards with stored value. Having a phone which can transfer money would enable micropayments to be made. Pay your friend $20 for movie ticket, or $5 for buying you a beer, or split the bill and pay them $40 for a meal. A daugher ask her father for $100 to go shopping. Instead of reaching into his wallet for cash he can zap her the money via his mobile.

Studies show that if you lose your wallet, on average it takes around 2 hours for you to realise. If you lose your phone it takes 20mins for you to realise it is lost. And for those that say its not safe to do phone banking – people said the same thing when credit cards and ATM’s were introduced. It just needs wider acceptance and adoption – and this will occur over time. We are living in a cashless society and this will eventually become the norm.

4. Digital Radio is here but not widely adopted

I spoke to Daniel about this a few months ago and it has piqued my interest again as a contact of mine has started selling digital radios. It will be like digital TV. The signal will be clearer than analogue. Ability to go back and replay the broadcast. Essentially you need, a digital radio to be able to get the signal. You can also listen to radio stations overseas. Also, digital radio will have information that is broadcast with the sound – words, pictures, links, etc… Its a more interactive version of radio.

The radio sets aren’t cheap – they retail for about $280+ and none of them look particularly visually appealing. At the moment, its more for early adopters. This stuff is standard in Europe though.

It actually only went live in May 2009, so watch this space.

5. The possible uses of social media on B2B relationships: This is somethign I will explore in another post. TBC.

I’m out like software on your computer,

Matt

Everything You Know About Web Design Is Wrong

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This is a good video about web design from SXSW (South by Southwest Festival). It’s all about the user – you need to start with them and end with them in your planning. This guy argues its not about the “elastic user” but rather its about the “specific user”, which kinda flies against the thinking of cloud computing. Because cloud computing suggests that the user can come from anywhere and you have to cater for anyone from anywhere.

Another good video from SXSW is about designing community pages for the wisdom of crowds (yes, its that book!). It’s not the actual author but someone who is applying those ideas to online.

I’m out like everything you knew about web design,

Matthew Ho

When competition collaborates

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One cannot survive without the need for competition. It is innate in all of us – to survive and to thrive, we must compete against each other. Charles Darwin said it best “Only the strong survive”. It is what pushes us to reach the next level.

 

Free market economies of the world operate on this principle – the idea of competition. By allowing opposite and opposing forces to generate the best outcome. It is competition which drives innovation. It leads us to higher levels of thinking and standards of living. Sometimes it is as simple as someone looking at the status quo and saying: “I think I can do better than that”.

 

One of the most interesting concepts I have come across that turns this competition principle on its head is “open source”. The idea that you can release intellectual property to the wider community and have them collaborate to generate solutions. Software companies have been doing this for a while now. Revenue used to be generated in selling licenses to software and the user would have to renew it on a yearly basis.

 

But now companies are giving up the Holy Grail – the source code to the open community to work with. I have recently heard presentations from Atlassian and Google, where they have provided their proprietary knowledge to the world. To allow people to work on it and develop better solutions and to enhance existing products.

 

The beauty of open source is that it is always getting updated. It might be version 2.0 today, but tomorrow it could be version 3.0. Plug-ins, enhancements and so forth, will be rapidly developing in the background. It is a symbiotic relationship between the company that owns the code, software developers and customers.

 

We had a presentation at work today from Google about their new products, and the concept that kept reappearing was open source. The idea that anyone can access it, work on it, and develop into something better. This principle applied to the upcoming release of the Android mobile platform, which will be used across all phones. They also discussed this idea of “open social”, which is one platform for all social networking gadgets and the idea of multiple communities. The problem at the moment is that a lot of these sites like Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster, etc… use different platforms. Many of these companies are now migrating to an open social platform, so that new developments can be rolled out across all these websites without having to modify them.

 

The other interesting concept that I have come across is “cloud computing”. I first read about it 8 months ago and it has become a much bigger concept now. The idea of cloud computing is that users can access something from anywhere. To illustrate, I can access my email from my home PC. But I can also access it from my laptop, work PC, an iphone, mobile device, from an internet café. You get the idea.

 

The user can come from anywhere. So applications and platforms need to be built to encompass all these different scenarios. Think of it as a big cloud, and you can fly into it from many different angles. It is the idea that it can be universally accessible. For me, a great example is the social bookmarking site Delicious. I save all my bookmarks on this website and I can log into any computer, on any browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox) and can look at my bookmarks. Its brilliant. I have access to my information independent of where I am and from where I access.

 

The guys at Google also unveiled a new product called “Google Health” which is based on this cloud computing idea. You know how when you go to a particular doctor, that doctor has all your medical records. If you go overseas, and see a doctor in Barcelona, Spain they don’t have access to your medical records (true story – happened to me!). Or if you are in an accident, they need immediate access. In an even simpler scenario, you change doctors and all the records are with your old doctor.Google Health consolidates all your medical information onto one platform, allowing you to access it anywhere via the web. No doubt that security and privacy concerns abound – but you can see the power and the immediate usefulness of cloud computing.

Lastly, one of the cooler Google innovations discussed today was “Google Chrome”. It was released last week and it is a new type of internet browser, competing against Internet Explorer and Firefox. It has a lot of cool features (of course, it has to be open source), such as allowing you to save websites as shortcuts onto your desktop, change window panes around & resize them, view the source code and operating statistics, has all the built in plug ins and just runs a lot faster.

 

How they position themselves in the browser market will be interesting given that they fund Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer is planning to release version 8.0 pretty soon. But hey, competition breeds innovation. Let the browser wars begin!

 

In the IT space, we are seeing a different type of competition. Parties are collaborating together, proprietary knowledge is being shared and diffused to the public. Open source is likely to become the norm, as we collectively work together to solve problems. Will this also extend to other areas of business and other types of knowledge sharing? The idea of cloud computing also poses new ways of thinking – by combining all our information and having it accessible anywhere, anytime.