Every IT pundit on the Internet seems to be busy during the holiday season with making predictions about what’s going to happen to the industry in the upcoming year. To say 2014 will be the Year of the Cloud seems a little redundant, given that ZDNet was tentatively predicting the same back in 2012. IBM officially declared in 2013 that “this is the year of the cloud.” But was it really? Seems as if those predictions keeping falling just a little short of reality, but Computer Weekly says next year it’s going to happen for real. I think they just might be right. I know, I know – but hear me out.
Steve Ballmer declared Microsoft was “all in” in 2010 and we’ve been hearing the hype ever since: The Cloud is here, resistance is futile and the life of the PC as we know it is over. But resist, we still do. Despite the herculean efforts of companies such as Microsoft and Google to lure us “to the cloud,” both individuals and business entities have been slower than anticipated about moving everything off of local computers and onto servers that exist “somewhere out there.” There are a number of reasons for that, some of them logical and some of them purely emotional.
At the consumer level, the cloud is a victim of bad timing. Casual users are perhaps the ones who find cloud computing most attractive; it takes much of the need for technical knowledge and skills off their shoulders and puts those onerous tasks such as backing up and maintaining complicated hardware into the laps of the cloud providers. And indeed, many consumers are dumping their PCs and Macs in favor of tablets that could be considered today’s version of the “thin client,” storing their music and movies and even their personal documents on SkyDrive or iCloud or Google Drive or Dropbox or one of dozens of other popular online storage services. Many are using online services such as Outlook.com and Gmail for their email and Office Web Apps or Google Apps instead of locally installed programs when they need to create a document or a spreadsheet. But many others aren’t. Why not?
The biggest problem is that at the same time cloud technology has improved to the point where it’s feasible to do that, and the speeds of most Internet connections are fast enough to make accessing applications and data over a wide area network a decent experience, many Internet Service Providers in the U.S. have started changing their pricing models from unlimited access plans to new ones with capped bandwidth (something that has been common in some other countries for a long time). The problem with that is that users are discovering that it can cost them a lot more to move all those bits and bytes to and from the cloud constantly than it does to store them on their local hard drives.
Some ISP’s caps on consumer plans are pretty reasonable. Cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner keep attempting to invoke bandwidth caps but so far seem to back off from them or raise them after being deluged with complaints. However, 4G Internet services, which the wireless companies are pushing as a substitute for home Internet service, are now subject to oppressively low limits. AT&T and Verizon have abandoned their unlimited plans (except for customers who “grandfathered in”) and are now offering only 2 GB per month for the same price they previously charged for unlimited access.
Companies don’t have quite the same dilemma as consumers, since many business plans still allow for unlimited access (albeit at higher prices). But businesses have other reasons to be hesitant about putting everything in the cloud. Downtime means lost money, and well-publicized cloud service outages have made business customers hesitant about trusting the reliability of the cloud.
In addition, security is always an issue when you don’t have direct control over the protective mechanisms in place. Many organizations have electronic data that’s just too sensitive to risk sending it back and forth over the Internet. Many are subject to government or industry regulatory rules that mandate specific levels of security, which may not be guaranteed by a public cloud provider. Some CIOs are concerned about how a move to the cloud will impact corporate cash flow and operational expenses. Small and medium-sized businesses, especially, are wary about their data being assimilated into the cloud.
Nonetheless, the cloud model has some compelling advantages. Resource pooling, elasticity and scalability, as well as broad network access via a wide range of mobile and non-mobile platforms, all make cloud computing very attractive. What few cloud-pushers seem to have recognized until recently is that the cloud doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition.
They’re recognizing it now. Thus Gartner’s prediction that one of the top IT-altering trends in 2014 will be the Hybrid Cloud. The hybrid cloud concept combines the best of both worlds, allowing businesses to combine on-premises private clouds with public cloud services where appropriate. In fact, Gartner says by 2017, half of all enterprises will have a hybrid cloud. Microsoft is focusing on solutions to help customers design hybrid clouds based on Azure. Companies from Dell to VMware to Rackspace to Red Hat (and many, many more) are touting the hybrid cloud.
Even consumers can adapt the “hybrid cloud” mentality to find a combination of public cloud services and local storage and application solutions that work for them and provide the right combination of performance, reliability, security and cost for the ways they use their computers.
Therefore, I think this upcoming year is when the cloud will finally “find itself” and come into its own – in the form of hybrid cloud computing.