Forbes Magazine asked me for an article on cloud computing, and here it is.
A Technology-Free Cloud
Mark Lewis, 11.04.10, 6:00 AM ET
If you make a living from IT, it's tempting to view "the cloud" as a technology platform--a way to lower costs, meter usage and scale more efficiently. But describing the cloud as a technology platform is like describing Elvis as a '70s act in Vegas. It's true, but the significance gets lost.
The biggest shift the cloud will introduce is not a technology shift; it's a complete transformation of the delivery model for digital experiences--experiences that will cross both professional and personal lines. For example, instead of recording movies and TV programs to watch from your home DVR, you can stream them through the cloud to your computer, TV, iPad or mobile phone.
Also with the cloud, rather than accessing office files only from your office PC, you can get a virtual image of your desktop on almost any computing device, whether at home or on the road. And these are real examples, not futuristic scenarios: 28 million people used global IPTV services in 2009, and 3 million people are already using virtual desktop infrastructure to work with applications and files they previously could use only at the office.
The cloud and the variety of devices we use to access it will change the way most of us live, work and play by, one, greatly accelerating the shift in control and power from technology providers to the people who use technology-based services and two, enabling richer digital experiences that will make technology more valuable but less visible. The changes have already started, and I believe they'll have profound impact within five to seven years.
People are already becoming accustomed to having more and more control over their digital experiences. Consider that today's kids are growing up with Hulu, YouTube and on-demand cable. Unlike those of us in the workforce today, what they watch has never been dictated by the schedule in TV Guide. Similarly, we see a shift in user expectations taking root in our places of work: employees are choosing which technology solutions to use. Employees, not corporate IT departments, transformed instant messaging and the iPhone into enterprise productivity tools. This trend recently turned personal as I became hooked on the iPad soon after its launch and asked my IT department to support it for work e-mails and to hook into EMC's internal cloud. Now, for most business trips, my iPad is the only device I carry.
People are not simply expecting more from their technology experience and gaining more control over the tools they use, but with the proliferation of public cloud services, they also now have the ability to get the IT services they want--without involving IT. My friend and colleague Paul Maritz jokes that his company, VMware, runs 14 SaaS applications and his IT department didn't choose or pre-approve any of them. Among our customers, which are mostly corporate and government IT departments, we've heard similar stories: business units or even individual employees are introducing cloud services into the enterprise with only a business need and a corporate Amex card.
I think the main reason cloud services are on the rise is because no one--not even business users who tolerate a fair amount of IT complexity--wants to be bothered with technology. What they want is to fill a business need: Will your solution help me do more, or do what I'm doing now for a smaller share of my budget? Can you speed up and streamline our process for resolving customer support requests and complaints? Can you help me manage my corporate information, which is doubling every 18 months, so that it's more usable to employees and can be leveraged for insight about how to better run my business?
The cloud is the technology stack that will allow such business solutions to be created and delivered on a massive, cheap scale. But to the user, the cloud is about the solution, not the technology. It's about experiencing an IT-based service in such a simple, easy way that the underlying technology becomes invisible. This is the irony of good technology: while it becomes more important than ever in the digital service experience, it also becomes transparent and taken for granted.
This is a wake-up call to technology providers, whether we are external IT partners or in-house IT groups: we have to deliver the benefits of technology-enabled solutions without the technology. But this is where many of us get off track. We work so hard on our technology that we almost can't bear to put it in the background and make it invisible. Putting technology first, however, means putting users second, which is the fast track to irrelevance.
If we focus on the cloud as a technology stack, we risk missing the mark on developing it as a business solution and service experience. We'll force people to turn elsewhere for what they need. If we focus instead on creating a business solution that's easy to use, then we'll be more likely to fulfill people's expectations for our cloud service and be rewarded with loyal users.
As technology providers, our goal for the cloud should be to make it seem technology-free. Only then will we be able to deliver the ultimate benefits of the cloud: a simple way for people to use information, productivity tools and entertainment services whenever, wherever and however they want.
Mark Lewis is chief strategy officer, Information Infrastructure Products, at EMC.