A Business Technology Place

Desktops in the cloud

Is it time to put your business desktops in the cloud?

The concept has an appeal to IT managers. Why shouldn’t it? Reduced total cost of ownership, automatic upgrades, and on-demand variations for OS/browser are a few appealing features. But are we really ready for desktops in the cloud?

I think we’ll get there. But we aren’t ready just yet.

  • Habits – computing usage habits and familiarity with screens and processes are hard to change. Most of the users with desktops/laptops under my IT management are very attached to their local drive storage. Saving to a network drive isn’t the path of least resistance because it’s not the default (but could be) and may not be available (laptops in local mode). Laptop users are in the habit of using their devices even with not internet connectivity. That would have to change.
  • WiFi availability – A recent trip down I-95 and I-10 in Florida reminded me that we still have areas on the grid that don’t have good access to the internet. My phone was flipping between 4G, G, E, and no networks. It’s getting better as providers enhance their networks, but until we have more wide spread access to full internet access I don’t think we can see wide-scale adoption of a mobile cloud computing desktop.
  • Data location – Storing data in the cloud is a concept that hasn’t reached happy place with security policies and risk management offices. I fill out a couple of security questionnaires each week and must answer about the security of PII and PHI data. The most common security controls call for no local storage, encrypted storage, and disabling portable storage media. That seems to fit into the cloud storage model well. But the complexity is that cloud storage means another facility and another group of employees that could have physical access to the data. The risk management office asks many other questions about physical security of the building and standard operating procedures for employees. Once the data is stored in the cloud, how can an IT manager vouch for the procedures at the hosting site?
  • Industry machine – Desktops and laptops are a big industry. Don’t underestimate the lobby and influence of the major players if they feel a cloud computing desktop will cut into their sales and profits.

None of these concepts are difficult to overcome and I think they will be overcome. Google has already started creating a variation in the home market with the ChromeBook. I think the cost benefits will ultimately draw IT managers to introduce cloud computing in the business environment as well.  They just need to solve for user habits, accessibility, data location, and availability of equipment.


Moving to the cloud

Last week I wrote a post about why cloud computing is important to more than Information Technology groups. My main position was that people today are becoming connected to the internet with more than a single device. Gone are the days of a single PC. Today, many consumers are connecting to data and other people with their PC/Laptop, Smartphone, tablet, iPad, etc.

So the availability of data is becoming more relevant to consumers today. Over the past year I’ve been transitioning myself to the cloud and trying services for documents, music, photographs, passwords, videos, and social sharing.  I’ve come to the point that now my default thinking about data storage is somewhere online. Our society needs to rethink the meaning of “get your head out of the clouds”.

Initially I was concerned about security of my data and privacy of the contents. Let’s breakdown security first. Is a data center of an operating entity more secure than my house or my computing devices which tend to be mobile? For physical security that’s a resounding yes. I performed backups and archiving at home, but might forget to get the local copy off-site to a storage location or in a safe. It’s nice to know, or maybe a peace of mind, to know an organization is doing this for me.

But what about privacy of the contents through soft access by data system hacking? I decided to reduce password exposure by creating different passwords for each service.  If the provider is hacked then I guess I run the risk of exposure along with thousands of others. Same risk holds for any place that has personal information about me though (doctor’s offices, IRS, credit card company, bank, etc.). I guess my point is that this is a risk for everyone unless you go off the grid and move to a cabin in deep Montana. I’ve had exposure to a service from a well known company that aggregates public records. Trust me, your life footprint is large and available in public records for others to see.

That brings us to usability. With data “in the cloud”, I pull it whenever and wherever I am. It’s not something I have to think about. It’s just there. People like simple. People use simple.

Oh make sure others know where the data is and how to access it (your passwords!). One day you hope to reside in the clouds. Orphaned data is a lonely place.

Cloud computing is important to more than just IT

Is IT moving to the cloud?
Cloud Computing is one of the IT industry buzzword these days for computing services. Gartner senior analyst Ben Pring says, “It’s become the phrase du jour.” But why is it so attractive? To answer this let’s start with a definition. Wikipedia defines cloud computing as

“the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a metered service over a network(typically the Internet).”

For IT groups it gives the potential to reduce costs and increase speed of service (every CIOs dream). They aren’t burdened with hardware maintenance, software release deployments, disaster recovery, or physical access to data for an increasingly mobile workforce. The need for those types of services is still relevant. But with cloud computing much of that is outsourced to a third party that solves these types of business needs as part of their solution offering.

But the cloud computing model is about more than B2B services.
The idea has already started to make it’s way into news articles, television commercials, and service offerings for consumers. Microsoft has a campaign theme using the phrase “to the cloud”. Apple and Google have cloud based media storage and retrieval with iCloud and Google Music. Drop Box and a slew of other companies offer cloud based storage to take care of backups and additional capacity needs of a consumer.

The real benefit to consumers today is that data is accessible from multiple devices.  In the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s most people used a single computing device. The data they needed was local to that one device. Programs such as GoToMyPC and Citrix Server were developed to give you remote control to your main device (home or office). But for the most part, software and hardware was purchased for that single device. Consumers had to deal with specification and compatiblity concerns (i.e. USB 2.0, Windows Compatible, Firewire, IDE, SD Disk, etc.)

But today, many consumers own multiple electronic devices. Many, if not all of them, with access to the cloud: Desktops, laptops, netbooks, smart phones, tablets, and televisions. The value of cloud computing to the consumer is that they have access to their data and computing services wherever they are and from whatever device they have with them. Consumers no longer have to worry about software verions, upgrades, cable compatibility, etc.

As I write this post, I’m use Google Docs to compose the draft while listening to Google Music play my library of music. I’ve pretty well converted all of my home computing to some cloud service because I use multiple internet connected devices. Whenever, wherever, and with whatever device I use, the data is there.

Oh, I should mention that cloud computing is a “sticky” service. If you become unhappy with your service provider in the future, the cost and complexity of moving to a different service provider may keep you in the unhappy relationship. Choose wisely.

Tablets, mobile devices, and Chrome OS offer different computing models

The Personal Computer model of the 80s and 90s is done.
In the early days of home computing, the personal computer was the choice for computing power from the home and office. The hardware required software to manage the operations of the computer and all of the software was installed locally to the device. Microsoft dominated these early days with the Windows and Office.

Through the 90s and 2000s we saw several advancements that started to change the world of the personal computer. The expansion of the internet to main stream life connected consumers to each other as well as consumers to businesses. The accessibility of broadband to the home made it possible for consumers to retrieve large amounts of information in the form of pictures, video, and rich text.  Advances in hardware speed and the reduction of computing device sizes helped engineers to create portable devices so that consumers could access information from anywhere.

Now we live in a connected world where individuals and businesses can not only consume digital content but they can create it as well. Facebook, Twitter, and mobile applications are all examples of this.

Today, consumers can choose from tablets, mobile devices, and cloud computing hardware.
I’m not a big Apple fan, but I’ll admit the iPhone and iPad have revolutionized the computing model that consumers use today. It’s a good thing, the advancements in user interface, ease of use, and practicality of the apple devices are creating more competition and advancements that benefit all of us.

Mobile devices work because of their portability and this makes them flexible to serve to consumers from almost any location. They have really become the swiss army knife of computing devices. Except they go one step farther. You can add and remove many blades from the device (software apps) to make the tool relevant no matter which venue of life you find yourself.

The tablet devices are filling a void between mobile device and laptop computer. The mobile device screen is just too small for some needs, while even the laptop computer can be bulky at times to carry. I see the tablet device as a portable and powerful information consumption device. Their use is exploding because consumers love the ease-of-use and breadth of applications.

But the tablet may be a challenge to use for heavy content creators.  The touch screen keyboard and limited hardware could decrease the efficiency for creating content. At least for now, until a generation grows-up using the touchscreen type keypads.

This past week, Google launched ChromeOS on a netbook frame to the general public. This event isn’t about netbooks, it’s about a computing model known as cloud computing.  Google has created a device similar to a smart-phone in a way. It’s a stripped down OS that removes most of the hardware operating system responsibilities and focuses on giving access to internet based applications through a browser. That’s the computer. A browser with access to the internet.  If you stop and think about it, many if not most, of the applications you use today are already from the internet.  It wouldn’t surprise to me to see ChromeOS on a tablet frame sometime in the near future.

Regardless brand loyalties or preferences, consumers win with all this advancement.
Consumers have many choices today. Unlike the PC-only model of the 80s and 90s, they have the ability to choose between different device types (PC, laptop, netbook, tablet, mobile) as well as different models (Local installation, cloud computing, and mobile application). It’s really about how the consumer creates and/or uses content. Consumers will choose those devices that work consistently and makes their lives easier by solving needs.

What do you think? What type of device and experience do you prefer?