Clouds lift over the recession

I joined Microsoft in December 1993. I’m just coming up for my 18th year in the company. I came from DEC. Some of you have never heard of DEC – Digital Equipment Corporation, often referred to as “digital”. At the time they were the second biggest computer company in the world. But they made huge VAX computers. Huge blue and brown metal boxes where one single computer took up the volume of 10 or 12 modern racks. It was a dying business. Innovation wasn’t happening at any kind of scale or pace in the mini-computer and mainframe-computer industry. But it was happening in the PC industry.

At the time, the economic climate for many people was pretty dire. High mortgage interest rates and large numbers of people with negative-equity in their properties: their outstanding mortgage was higher than the value of their homes. But think to only 2 years later. The PC ushered in a brave new world of innovation and excitement. Windows 95 was launched and we all thrust ourselves headlong in to this idea called the “Internet”. It was an exciting time. There was tremendous growth. A short time later we had the dot-com-boom. Everybody who was anybody was creating a web-site then selling it 6 months later for millions.

I get the impression that’s where cloud computing has the potential to take us today. We’re all permanently wired up or wirelessed up to the net. We use desktop computers, laptops, tablet and slate devices, iPads, smartphones. We even have our GPS systems connected to the net so our maps are never out of date. I used my phone’s (a Windows Phone of course) Maps feature to get me to a venue in London today. I zoomed in and had a look at the photos of the building I was looking for so I could recognise it when I was near. And I did! The plan worked. It always does.

Most of these things would be almost impossible without the vast amount of compute and storage being called on at the back-end, on the end of that Internet connection, to power these devices. The excitement brought about by the recent phenomenon known as the consumerization of IT has a feel and a zest just as tangible, exciting and powerful as did the mass emergence of the PC as a serious business tool back in the early 90s.

Is Cloud Computing opening all the doors that the PC opened back then? Is Cloud Computing positioned as one of those technologies that gives creative, innovative people a platform on which to create the next set of great things that cause a tremendous stimulation of the economy? I can only really see the combination of cloud computing, the Internet and smart personal computing devices as being on the very leading edge of all the greatest innovations we’ll see in the next few years. I don’t think there’s anything else that compares, in terms of its ability to stimulate an ailing economy. Sure there are big breakthroughs in many areas of technology – medicine, engineering, even space travel for the masses (well, the rich masses anyway), but I don’t see anything else positioned in a way that could make a significant difference.

Some governments recognise this – for example the Obama administration’s notion that all new US Federal IT Projects should be first run through the is-there-any-way-we-can-run-this-in-the-cloud filter. Government departments don’t usually win awards for the efficiency of their procurement processes. I’ve been on the supplier side of the sale of a few systems so I have some first hand experience of it. It’s a bit like fighting wars. They say today’s wars are always fought using the tactics of yesterday’s war. I’m reminded of the immediate digging of trenches at the outbreak of the second world war. The invading forces sort of, well, ignored them. Jumped over them, if you will. Ran past them. Government departments procure big things to the standards of the last big thing they procured.

There was no such thing as cloud computing then. So many proposals which introduce incredibly innovative solutions based on cloud technologies are summarily rejected. I think the US government is going to get a jump on most of the other leading economies, exploiting the great things that the cloud can do. We now live in a world where anybody who has imagination and can dream up the next thing we all want to be part of, can literally compete with the very biggest companies in the world. And you and I wouldn’t even know they weren’t absolutely massive.

I wonder which governments will introduce measures to strangle the effects of legislation which is 10 years out of date and which stops cloud solutions from flourishing. I mentioned in an earlier post that compliance (with some collection of standards that are 10 years out of date) is not the same as security. I think we desperately need some large national-economies to re-draft their legislation to take in to consideration the new world we live in. I’m not suggesting a relaxation in standards of say, security or privacy. But most “compliance” today is compliance for the sake of compliance. Take security, my hot-potato. Yes – there are firms who run data-centres to a higher security standard than the big primary cloud operators. But they are in a tiny tiny minority. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google run data centres that enjoy security the average company could never even dream of. Yet these companies are hamstrung because there is legislation that forces them to run their applications and store their data in their own data-centres which, in most (but agreed, not all) cases, are in fact less secure. So legislation and standards which aim to increase security have in fact the opposite effect.

Policymakers in central and departmental government have a job to catch up and they need to do it pretty pronto. As the saying goes – “The Internet changes everything”. With the arrival of cloud computing on the Internet, it radically changes everything. I truly believe the seeds, shoots and even the glorious multi-coloured blooms of recovery exist, to a large part with companies who are going to be taking massive advantage of cloud computing. But only if they can.

There – I bet you didn’t think you could get a horse that high in to a room this small did you?

Planky – GBR-257

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