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Get your head out of the cloud

Posted by Joe McNamara on 5th November 2014

cloudAccording to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index, global cloud IP traffic will account for more than three quarters (76%) of total data centre traffic by 2018. The forecast estimates that global cloud traffic will quadruple over this five year period, expanding at 32% CAGR until 2018.

Fascinating stuff… but the concept of cloud computing is one of the most oversimplified and misunderstood in the entire technology industry. For the tech PR, the challenge is to make sense of the cloud behemoth and more importantly find ways of differentiating their clients’ cloud-based services.

Let’s be clear about one thing though. Cloud is fast becoming an indefinable term. It refers to enterprise storage and applications that allow people to access and use information from multiple sites. It also refers to what are commonly termed ‘personal cloud’ services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud.

But what people tend to forget is that online chat services (Facebook, Skype); email clients (Gmail, Hotmail); productivity apps (Evernote, Wunderlist); online dating (Tinder, Match); music streaming and sharing services (Spotify, Soundcloud) are all cloud-based.

The bottom line is it’s becoming very difficult to use the fact that something is ‘cloud-based’ as a differentiator anymore. In both consumer and B2B services, basing applications, programmes and services on a cloud infrastructure is becoming an expected norm given that consumers and employees want to access the same information across multiple devices in a seamless fashion.

Making sense of the cloud 

A bit of housekeeping before we continue: a cloud is still a piece of physical storage. More often than not cloud servers are hosted in a data centre. It’s not a magical, heaven sent invention of fantasy, but a piece of infrastructure.

The way cloud servers differ from traditional virtual dedicated servers is that they can run as software-independent units. This means a cloud server has all the software it requires to run and doesn’t depend on centrally-installed software. Therefore, cloud servers tend to simply be far more flexible pieces of kit that do not just facilitate outright storage but also a higher level of customisation and interaction with the data within them.

For example, think about how if you post a photo on Facebook through its smartphone application, you can see it as soon as you refresh your laptop, desktop or tablet. The information is not native to your device but all being stored in the cloud server that you can’t see, but I promise exists somewhere, where it will then be shared with your other devices connecting to that cloud-based service.

My cloud is better than your cloud

I’m not saying that cloud-based services aren’t interesting anymore – quite the opposite. But the fact that something is cloud-based isn’t really the thing that makes it interesting. Unless it’s the first of its kind – the first ever cloud-based real-time war and conquest game, for example.

It’s important to look on the cloud as an infrastructure that adds value to the services operating over it. Particularly for enterprise, it’s usually about services and applications being more scalable, customisable, flexible and compatible with multiple devices and operating systems.

For consumers the concept of a personal cloud or cloud-based applications simply means that you can interact with your information on multiple devices in a more sophisticated manner and can add more devices to the fray. This makes the process of replacing a phone or laptop far less painless as all your data is stored in the cloud and the majority of your online interactions are cloud-based as it is.

By looking at cloud-based items at an application or service level, the key messages you extract about what they allow users to achieve are far more compelling.

Photo credit: Wingchi Poon