What enterprise IT can learn from the growth of “personal clouds”

While we have a tendency to focus on the growth of enterprise cloud computing, the growth of retail, or “personal” clouds, is growing faster than most in the industry expected. We can define these personal clouds as public cloud services that focus on individual or personal use and not business use.

There are thousands of personal cloud services these days, ranging from file and document sharing to sophisticated personal finance applications. These personal clouds are leveraged from our personal laptops, mobile devices, even from our TVs and automobile dashboards.

The growth of personal clouds is largely due to a few core factors:

  • The continued growth of mobile computing, which requires the use of personal, cloud-based platforms that support an ever-growing number of mobile applications (apps).
  • Growth in the number of devices typically owned and leveraged for personal use, and thus the need for shared storage, calendars, documents, and email systems.
  • An acceptance that personal clouds are secure enough for the storage of personal information, considering the number of breaches have been few.

Back in March, I published some statistics from Strategy Analytics showing the growth of various personal cloud services, including iCloud, Google, Dropbox, Amazon, and a few others. The notion is that growth of the cloud for non-business use is beginning to accelerate, perhaps more so than the relative growth of cloud computing in the traditional business market.

ICloud, for example, which was just released in 2011, is now leveraged by 27 percent of Americans polled, according to the Strategy Analytics report. Of course, the consumption of public cloud services by enterprises for the use of business IT is nowhere near that rate of growth, even though cloud computing has been on the radar of enterprise IT since 2007.

The same survey showed that Dropbox is now leveraged by 17 percent of Americans. Last year Forbes reported that the number of Dropbox users hit 100 million: “The company has doubled in size from a year ago, to 100 million users. They’re saving files at immense volumes, too. One billion files are saved in Dropbox every 24 hours.”

Of course, the growth of the personal cloud is primarily driven by the rapid growth of mobile computing. According to the latest study from Juniper Research, the number of mobile cloud computing subscribers is expected to grow rapidly in the next five years. The cloud-based mobile market will generate annual revenue of $9.5 billion in 2014, up substantially from $400 million in 2009, at an average annual increase of 88 percent.

The report reveals that consumer-oriented apps will comprise an ever-larger proportion of total revenues. This will be derived both from time-based subscriptions to services, such as mobile online gaming, and advertising from cloud-based social networks.

What’s most perplexing about the growth of cloud computing for personal use? Those who use cloud computing for shopping lists, shared calendars, and social networking are gaining more benefit from the use of cloud computing technology than those who drive billion dollar companies. In other words, personal IT has surpassed enterprise IT in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and sophistication.  The old adage that most employees have better computers in their homes than their computers at work, now applies to clouds as well.

There are a few side benefits to the rise in the personal clouds for larger enterprises. First, the concept of cloud computing is becoming much more known and accepted within enterprises because most of us leverage some type of cloud-based platform daily. Second, while security is not the primary focus of personal cloud-based platforms, the security in place seems to be relatively effective and thus far successful. Finally, the use of personal cloud-based platforms for business, including file and document sharing, is pushing enterprise IT to look at more enterprise-focused cloud computing providers.

The patterns of growth of personal clouds will likely continue through 2016, with some de-acceleration occurring as the market saturates. The work done in building these clouds will certainly carry over to the enterprise cloud computing space, and, in many instances, enterprise clouds and personal clouds will come from the same provider. For instance, it’s now commonplace for a personal cloud to be built within a larger public cloud provider, including Google, AWS, or Microsoft.

While enterprises, the technology press, and analyst community have largely watched cloud computing from the sidelines, the personal cloud space became bundled with mobile computing, social networking, and personal automation applications. Although not often called “cloud computing” in the personal space, cloud computing it indeed be.  Perhaps enterprises can learn a thing or two around the rapid growth of cloud-based platforms built for the person vs. the business.