Another word for a low-hanging cloud is fog. I think that pretty accurately describes where the IT industry is when it comes to the cloud. Everyone has a different definition. Some further confuse the situation by using cloud as a new label on old technologies.
Let me offer a little clarity. Most of what today is called the cloud, three years ago was called utility computing: using virtualization and automation technologies to pool resources and bind them flexibly to workloads. These infrastructure services can help reduce costs, improve agility, and drive standardization — all important agendas for IT organizations. But this limited definition risks missing something more transformative. If it’s not the cloud, then what is?
Simply put, the cloud is the next stage in the evolution of the Internet, though its impact will be far from simple. The democratization of powerful, scalable, industry-standard computing resources coupled with pervasive broadband allows us to store massive amounts of data, then analyze and contextualize that data to create tailored and intuitive services, for both individuals and businesses. In short, the Internet now has memory and something like the ability to reason. This allows us to develop solutions to problems that, if attempted with traditional technologies, would be either too expensive to start or doomed to fail on delivery.
Looking across the entire spectrum of information technology, there is one class of solutions for which the cloud is particularly well-suited: collaboration. Whether connecting people to people or businesses to businesses or people to their context and location, the ability to harness a constant stream of data means that we can use technology services to enhance and improve nearly every aspect of human experience.
For example, today around the world, Web 2.0 sites continue to grow at an exponential pace. Facebook has more than 200 million active users. One million users are added to Facebook every day. Twitter grew 1,382 percent in 2008, according to Nielsen Online. What’s next? The marriage of social networking, location and tagging.
Friendlee, developed by HP Labs, the central research arm of my company, automatically creates a social network based on who you contact the most. It then allows you to share your location, the ambient conditions of your surroundings, your likes and dislikes about restaurants, entertainment, tourist sites, etc. Going one step further, you can create and leave persistent virtual tags at those locations to be read by others. When walking into a restaurant, you could be notified of what your best friend thought about the dessert.
The consumer benefits with a service like Friendlee are clear. But the same technology could be very useful in large businesses, for communicating more efficiently and fluidly in everything from small, virtual work groups to global sales account teams.
Friendlee is just one service. Social networking is just one aspect of experience. With the cloud, we will see a proliferation of services anchored around individual profiles, aware of context and location, and tailored to particular areas of experience as well as vertical industries. The cloud makes it possible to deliver everything as a service, wherever, however and whenever you need it.
Russ Daniels is vice president and chief technology officer of Cloud Services Strategy at HP.