What Cloud Computing Really is: And why everyone in technology should pay attention to it

I’ve wrestled for years in my mind with what exactly cloud computing is; for a long time I was convinced it was mostly hype.  But cloud platforms and techniques have finally advanced to the point where I think we as an industry are developing a real sense of what it means from a technology perspective.  Alas the movement of cloud computing has less to do with technology per se and more to do about access and experience.  Cloud does indeed represent a revolution in many respects, but it may not be the one you expect. I recently talked with a friend about the cloud and as we approach Bastille Day he made me think this could end up more like the French Revolution; with reluctant IT departments in the position of the aristocracy.  

My friend is a sales manager and he doesn’t consider himself tech-savvy, but he does think he has more common sense than his IT staff (the hard news for us tech people is he’s probably right).  He was talking to me about the cloud, explaining how he wants better access to data on his teams and their performance, but that there were so many sources and owners of the data that it was impossible to get the information he wanted in a format he could use in a timely manner.  This is where he broke out the cloud a moment in which I’m sure his IT team was horrified.

He explained what he wanted and it had little to do with what most of us would think of as cloud computing, but it also had little to do with his current IT organization and that was the crux of it.  I was thinking about my upcoming Bastille Day dinner and this is when it came together for me.  To me Bastille Day is a celebration, but what it commemorates is the rising up of the common people and the shattering of the feudal society that dominated life at that time.

At the end of the day, much of the move to cloud computing is a sort of collective uprising pushed by non-IT people; people who are outside the hierarchy that dominates technology and information today.  This revolution is an attempt by users to gain access to their information.  Information systems and the organizations that maintain them have become so inwardly focused that we’ve lost sight of what our true purpose is to facilitate the productivity of others.  Do your users care about the results of the last SOX audit?  Chances are no.  Do they care if they can easily access their information wherever they want, reliably and with minimal fuss?  You bet they do.  Cloud computing has given them the hope of doing this, the same way they can access their CRM via a website anywhere.  Even if these same users will never understand the technical underpinnings of cloud technology, they know what they ultimately want: to get technology to work for them.

Social media has changed the expectations of users the world over and they now expect this same access and independence in their work systems.  Increasingly it is the users (which generally include the people paying the bills) who are demanding cloud.  If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will; we are still early in this revolution.  As more organizations successfully leverage cloud computing to lower costs and deliver greater scale, uptime, and performance the cry will grow louder and you will have to decide if you will embrace this user revolution or say Let them eat cake.

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