The Future of Cloud Computing: Is Your Head in the Clouds?

I spent this past holiday weekend in Rhode Island with my family and during an everyday conversation at the dinner table my father casually mentioned something about cloud computing. It was in that moment I realized the importance of the “cloud” and how big this topic is becoming in today’s world. If my father, who is in his mid-60s, understands it to the point where he is bringing it up in casual conversation, shouldn’t I know where this trend is headed? After all let’s face it, cloud computing is a growing trend in the IT world and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away. In years to come, our everyday lives at work and at home may rely on cloud computing. So first, just to provide a simple background and general description, let’s look to Wikipedia (because who doesn’t go to Wikipedia for answers to life’s questions?). There I found this explanation: “Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid”. This explanation didn’t seem too helpful, but then I realized that an easier way to explain it is to point out how we already deal with cloud computing on a daily basis.

When using webmail or visiting sites like Facebook, we are actually dealing with the cloud, but these are public clouds, or basically a site that sells services to anyone on the Internet. What I’m looking to discover more about is a private cloud. This I have come to learn is an online data center that supplies hosted services to a limited number of people. Private or public, the goal of cloud computing is to provide easy access to computing resources and IT services. Though the question I still have, even after these thrilling descriptions, is can I trust my most important data to sites like this? I don’t know.

So let’s take a look at some figures. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project showed that by 2020 70% of people will do work in internet-based applications. What will this mean for business, and will firms need to rework their security and compliance initiatives? Hackers could have a field day with all of the information simply floating around the internet in some “cloud” instead of being stored safely away on our PCs. Will using a secure password be enough to protect us from fraud?

On the tech side of things, Gartner estimates that product spending in the cloud market at $150B by 2013. Merrill Lynch has a greater estimate that the market will be at $160B by 2011. AMI‘s research estimate is that cloud spending for small and medium businesses alone will reach $100B by 2014. We don’t know whose estimate will be right, but nonetheless this shows the future growth in the market. If this trend is enough to warrant billions of dollars worth of spending then we should take notice.

Then there’s the million dollar question, will cloud computing work for the financial services industry? This question, however, doesn’t have one answer. Some think yes, others are not so optimistic, while others don’t even know what cloud computing is nor do they plan to find out. It might surprise you to know that the financial services industry was one of the first industries to adopt cloud computing. It provided a high performance computing alternative, while lowering costs. Some firms and banks got rid of their large data centers and all of the hardware that came with it. This made IT folks happy and it helped the bottom line. Many still have a lot of uncertainty around its security risks, myself included, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Basically, the point I am trying to make is whether you understand cloud computing or not, we need to start taking a more serious look at its advancements and where it’s headed. As the previously mentioned survey revealed, we are headed into the clouds by 2020, so we should start thinking now about what we can do to prepare and make the most of this advancement in technology. For instance, should this be a topic focused on in greater detail during industry events? If yes, what specifically do you need addressed? The sooner we start thinking about how to implement cloud computing into our business practices the better.

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