There is something about clouds that brings the term into our daily lives. We say “it is a cloudy day”, or “there is not a cloud in the sky”, or if we feel especially elated or happy we might say “I feel like I am on cloud nine“. Nowadays many are talking about “cloud computing“. Sometimes we just say something is “in the cloud”. It means different things to different people.
In the early days of the Internet we thought of it as made up of three parts. First there was a discrete collection of specialized computers called routers which moved packets of ones and zeroes between origin and destination. Secondly was another set of computers called servers which contained emails and web pages, and finally the networking infrastructure including telephone wires, modems, and various networking devices such as hubs and switches that tied everything together. Users of the Internet today that are not aware of this technical history — which is the vast majority of the world’s billion + users — know the Internet for its most popular application, the World Wide Web. In a sense, the web is a “place” that contains all of the information and applications that we want to use.
In more recent years the larger web application providers, such as Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo!, and others have begun to refer to their infrastructure as “clouds”. If you create a spreadsheet at Google Docs and then save it, where is it actually saved? In the Google “cloud”. We don’t know where it really is — it is just “there” at docs.google.com — in the “cloud”. There are many millions of servers on the Internet but to most people there may as well just be one. That is the beauty of the Internet — you don’t have to know what the infrastructure is or how it works. But suppose the spreadsheet you create and save at Google Docs happens to be your personal financial plan with income, taxes, assets, liabilities and estate plans. Do you trust Google with this information? There are multiple dimensions to the question and answers. From my perspective it is important to compare the risk to that of keeping such data on your own computer. In short, I would say that the risk of your data getting compromised at Google is less than the risk of your hard drive crashing or having your laptop stolen at Laguardia Airport.
Consumer and enterprise interest in cloud computing is on the rise. As security and reliability guarantees of public cloud service providers improve, more businesses are turning to the cloud not only to optimize their own IT infrastructure and workloads but to improve efficiencies in their business models by better integrating employees with clients and suppliers. In January IBM announced the largest enterprise cloud computing deployment in history at Panasonic Corporation. The consumer electronics giant has begun a migration to IBM’s LotusLive public cloud services. More than 100,000 employees in various departments will participate initially and then expand to more than 300,000 employees and external partners and suppliers.
The Panasonic users will work together across the Web as efficiently as if they were all down the hall. The company believes that the freedom and cost-efficiencies of the cloud are compelling and that the IBM cloud will provide the security, reliability and privacy they require. The users will get web conferencing, file sharing, instant messaging, project management and social networking for business communications between employees, partners and suppliers. Panasonic has made a strategic decision to unify its brands worldwide under the Panasonic name and the IBM cloud solution will allow the global effort to provide a competitive advantage by helping its multiple business units work together more efficiently.
Is cloud computing for businesses or for consumers? It is for people. Businesses do not buy from businesses. People in businesses buy from people in businesses. Clouds are all about making people more productive. Panasonic appears to be adopting this philosophy in a major way and setting a very good example which will surely be emulated.