Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to join a live panel discussion in New York on Cloud Computing. The panel was part of a live global conversation that took part in Asia (Singapore), Europe (Nice) and Americas (New York) within 24 hours.
Here’s a link to the sessions:
I thought I would take a brief departure from my other missives to share some recent experiences. This entry is more geared for those of you that are road warriors. And it applies to the more personal use cases of cloud computing.
On a personal note, I thought I knew what it meant to travel extensively. I have been an elite flyer for 20 years. Most of that travel is with a single carrier or with their partner carriers. During all of those years, I have carried a cell phone and laptop computer.
Over the past year, the nature of my work has changed. Instead of focusing on one company I now work with multiple organizations on different projects and initiatives. Between the speaking engagements and consulting opportunities, my travel has increased markedly. As such, I have been schooled on what a “real” road warrior is. In April, I flew over 20,000 actual flight miles. That was 20,000 miles in one month! Those are actual flown miles and before bonuses, etc. At the time, I thought that was quite a bit of travel for a single month. Then May hit. In May, I flew over 24,000 actual flight miles. Many of you may know that flying internationally is a good way to rack up miles quickly. My 24,000+ miles in May were all domestic miles! Aside from May, my travel does consist of both domestic and international travel.
So, where is the part about cloud computing? Well, I needed to set the context first.
During those trips, I needed to stay connected. Over the past two months or so, I have experienced using an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro. I have also used a number of online services including Box.net and MobileMe. There are pros and cons about each of the platforms and services. This is not specific to Apple products. The same issues exist regardless of you are using Windows or Mac.
The key attribute is accessibility to data. Without access to data, using the applications on each of the platforms is useless. That should not be a surprise to anyone. However, when I pushed myself to try and use cloud-based services (ie: Box.net and MobileMe), I ran into some game stoppers. Specifically, they are not readily accessible everywhere. Ubiquitous connectivity is the challenge. It is not easy to ensure ubiquitous access wherever you go. The three challenging situations for connectivity were: The airplane, No (or cost-prohibitive) Wi-Fi and limited or no cellular coverage. The way I learned to deal with this today is to keep the data with me…encrypted of course. And keep an encrypted backup copy of it on a USB drive too…just in case.
Until we can ensure ubiquitous connectivity of the different platforms, it will be hard to for the road warrior to leverage. However, it is the road warrior that could be one of the best use cases too! For many of us, we are always looking to shed weight. No, I do not mean personal body weight. I mean luggage weight. Every pound counts. It would be great (read: ideal) if there were a single device that had all of the needed applications and data readily accessible. It would have connectivity to the outside world when needed and be in a light, easy to carry form factor. As an example, I had hoped the iPad would be a good replacement for my basic needs when traveling. Unfortunately, it came up short (very short) on the data side. The form factor is excellent. The applications are a mediocre, but manageable. The challenge was being able to ensure ready access to the needed data. That was a no-go. I tried a number of different ways, but still came up with significant limitations. And when you are on the road with limited alternatives, those limitations can be a killer. So, I am back to focusing on two tools: an iPhone and the MacBook Pro.
Bottom Line: Personal use of cloud computing for road warriors is challenging at best. Depending on your personal situation, results may vary. The potential, however, is huge. I did not even address the other aspects like data protection/ security if a device is lost. The key calls for action are 1) more ubiquitous access (Wi-Fi and high-speed cellular) and 2) ready access to data. These go hand-in-hand. Hopefully, we will see improvements in these areas in the short term. I, for one, would be willing to give it a go again.
Cloud Computing is the number one strategic issue for enterprise organizations today (Gartner). However, it presents a new advantage for the Startup and Small and Medium Business (SMB) to level the playing field.
Today, startups find it challenging to raise capital to purchase hardware to run their application or service. The same is true for a SMB organization. However, there are alternatives. Now, a startup or SMB can sign up for services and only pay for what they consume.
Prior to cloud computing, companies faced a significant hurdle in terms of capital costs when starting up an operation. That hurdle still exists for those running their own operations today. However, with cloud computing, the hurdle is lowered…and in some cases eliminated.
It is now possible for a startup or SMB to run an IT operation without owning their own data center or servers. This creates a significant advantage compared with the traditional enterprise.
Not only does it prevent the need to invest capital in data centers and equipment, It presents an advantage in terms of geography, responsiveness and flexibility. Organizations can setup operations closer to their customers regardless of where their physical offices are. And, they’re able to scale with demand in a timely fashion.
Startups and SMB organization have one other advantage over enterprise organizations. They are typically not challenged by internal cultural norms or inertia. This further advances the startup or SMB organization to compete more equitably on a global level.
Facebook and Google have taken quite a bit of heat lately regarding their privacy policies. In essence, they’ve taken an opt-out approach to privacy. Put another way, they make the decision for the user to share information then allow the user to opt-out. That may work for many new features or options. With privacy, the option is a bit more sensitive. While some may be ok with sharing information widely on the Internet, most appear to chide at the concept.
With the opt-out approach, it seemed like users needed to recheck privacy settings every couple of days because of a new feature or change to Facebook’s privacy changes.
A better approach would be to use an opt-in approach to privacy. That is, by default, nothing is shared unless you (as the user) opt to share it.
This leads to a larger issue with storing data in the cloud. Whether personal or corporate data, it needs to be protected by default. How it is protected depends on a variety of factors. But let’s hope that as new cloud providers enter the market they take the opt-in approach to sharing of information.
Yesterday (June 2, 2010), AT&T announced changes to it’s data service pricing. The full press release can be found at:
The big news is that AT&T is doing away with their “unlimited” data plans. Many folks will question whether this is a good thing or not. However, the first question is to get an idea of your data usage. The data usage will depend on the device you use and how you use that device. For most, the usage of the device will peak at first while getting to know it. Then usage will taper off. It is possible that usage will continue to grow as you find new ways to use your device.
I took a sampling of two devices I use regularly; an iPhone and an iPad. I’ve used the iPhone regularly for the past year. So, my usage has somewhat normalized. Over the past 6 months, I’ve averaged 243MB/ month in data usage on the iPhone. The peak month was 442MB and lowest usage month was 154MB. The usage is trending upward.
I have only had the iPad for 2 days now. As such, there is still quite a bit of “trying things out” that is happening right now. If I take the data usage over the past two days and extrapolate that over 30 days, I come up with 500MB/ month. Even if I double the value, it is still only 1GB/ month.
AT&T’s two new data plans top out at 200MB and 2GB per month respectively. Using my use case as a typical-heavy user of bandwidth, the 2GB data plan should provide more than adequate coverage for both devices.
As we leverage the cloud more over time, I would expect these numbers to grow. And if you’re starting to use new applications like video streaming from Netflix on the iPad, then the numbers will grow even further.
There is an alternative. Leverage AT&T’s Wi-Fi when you can. Access to AT&T’s Wi-Fi Hotspots is included with the data plans. It’s both faster than the cellular network and provides unlimited bandwidth under AT&T’s new plans. You can also leverage free Wi-Fi in a variety of locations in addition to the Wi-Fi that you may have in your home/ workplace.
Bottom Line: AT&T states that the new plans should help lower the data bills for 98% of their customers. Based on my use case scenarios, I would tend to agree.