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Computing moves on


HE WORLD of technology and computing is littered with jargon and business buzzwords, and as each new piece of kit arrives, more are added to the lexicon. From URLs and LAN to SEO and social CRM, it can be a

befuddling place. Meetings used to bask in ‘blue-sky thinking’, now people can’t see past the cloud. Of course, every new thing is going to be the next BIG thing, and we often get hyperbolic forecasts – “Literally I will tell you we’re betting our company on… this incredible transformation around the cloud,” said one tech CEO in a speech earlier this year.

You’d generally be forgiven for dismissing such hype. But when the leader in question is Steve Ballmer, and he’s betting Microsoft, the prospect becomes more compelling. The Windows giant has recently joined the likes of Google, Oracle and Amazon in pumping billions into the development of the cloud and its promise of cheaper, more flexible IT. While the exact definition of ‘cloud’ can be murky (see page 41), it’s really just an umbrella term for scalable IT services in which an external provider handles clients’ systems in data centres, leaving them to use the platform remotely when they want. This may mean renting remote server space from a provider (Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS), or accessing virtual applications, like CRM systems, on a pay-to-use basis (Software as a Service or SaaS). Get it right and the benefits are immense, as Dominos Pizza learned this year when it used Microsoft’s Azure platform to scale up its site to cope with the intense demands of Superbowl Sunday.

“Cloud computing is a natural progression,” says Chris

Evans, MD of Foreshore. “But it will revolutionise the delivery of IT – costs of certain services will drastically reduce, and the infrastructure will move out of business premises.” Not only does cloud reduce the infrastructure burden for the end-user, you no longer need your own engineer looking

38 December 2010/January 2011

after 200 inboxes, moaning about you exceeding your limited capacity. Plus, of course, it’s scalable. If you suddenly find yourself with 200 new staff needing extra software, you can pay as you use without the hassle of installations, and ditch it when you need to. And it needn’t break the bank – Microsoft’s Office 365 package will soon offer its Office applications as a cloud platform, for a mere £6.50 a month.

Storm warning

So what’s not to like? Well for one there’s the haziness of the term ‘cloud’. To many observers, this lack of clarity is like the first clap of thunder that threatens business as it tucks into the picnic. And then there are questions over some of the providers. Plenty of less well resourced technology vendors have joined the frenzy, convincing companies to pay over the odds for non-standard services that may open them up to data loss and legal nightmares.

“The truth is distorted by those who are refiguring their product and putting the word ‘cloud’ next to it just to jump on the bandwagon,” says Mark Loane, MD of C5 Alliance. “The sales people are hyping it to death, and the vendors are doing what they think will make money, but it’s not necessarily good for the companies they are selling to.” Loane is quick to support the

cloud in principle, with well resourced provisions from established vendors. His issue lies with non-standardised services. There has been a trend among smaller vendors to develop such systems as

With the world’s largest tech companies declaring that the ‘cloud’ is the future, is the relationship between business and technology about to change forever? Dave Waller investigates

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