We are on the Cloud

Archive post from Qatar Today, January 2014.

If you have even a passing interest in technology matters, then the chances are that you will have heard reference to “the cloud” or “cloud computing”.

But what is this mysterious cloud?

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking this refers to content or services that are stored “in the ether” on remote devices often dotted around the globe rather than on your PC or a local server.

The chances are that you are already using cloud services and have been for some time. With services like Apple’s iCloud, then the clue is in the name. But long-standing webmail clients  – like Hotmail or Gmail – are exactly that, e-mail stored on the Web, a service that enables you to access your messages wherever you are, rather than from a specific device (like your home PC) or location (such as the office).

In recent years domestic usage of the cloud has increased too, with services like Spotify and Netflix allowing you to access content that lives in the cloud and that you physically don’t own.

As we continue to generate huge amounts of digital material, the cloud can be beneficial for domestic users, offering a means to store this material in a safe, and potentially retrievable, place. Dropbox, for example, allows you to store a large amount of data online, ideal for photographs and other important documents.

ictQATAR’s “Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2013: Business” report shows that “almost nine out of 10 businesses in Qatar reported that they had never even heard of the cloud and even among those establishments that are cognisant of the cloud, only 3% are actually using cloud services”.

People often used to say that in the event of their house burning down the two things they’d rescue were their photograph albums and their loved ones. If you use the cloud effectively, then hopefully you only now need to focus on saving your nearest and dearest!

Increasingly, much cloud-related activity is automatic. This removes the need, and the hassle, to copy across your files onto USB sticks or external memory drives (all of which can easily get lost or damaged anyway).  By way of an example, as soon as I’m connected – be that to 3G or WiFi – then my smartphone automatically uploads any new pictures I’ve taken to my Google Plus account. As a result, if my phone got stolen, or my memory card corrupted, then the photos on it would no longer be lost. Phew!

Meanwhile, tools like HiSuite from Huawei – now world’s third-largest smartphone vendor – take this sort of behind-the-scenes activity a stage further, by automatically backing up contacts, messages, calendar, media files and other information, which is all very handy for the time you drop your phone in the bath. (I haven’t, but I have a “friend” who did.)

On a domestic level, these sorts of services and applications are inherently useful, but the major market for the cloud lies in the business and enterprise sectors.

Forbes recently reported that the worldwide cloud computing market will grow at a 36% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between now and 2016, when it will have become a $19.5 billion industry.

103 WE ARE ON THE CLOUD

This industry, which combines both public and private clouds (a public cloud like Amazon web services is open to anyone, whilst proprietary closed networks tend to be described as private clouds), offers the potential to change the way we do business. This is particularly the case for SMEs and start-ups, many of whom can now access services and applications that they previously could not afford.

However, as the research company Gartner has noted, “market dynamics vary substantially when considering the cloud services market size and market growth across the different regions of the world”.

This is particularly true in parts of our region and across different sectors, with ictQATAR recently noting that in Qatar “almost nine out of 10 businesses reported that they had never even heard of the cloud”. Their report, “Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2013: Business”, detailed findings from a survey of 1,003 business establishments across the country and also commented that even “among those establishments that are cognisant of the cloud, only 3% are actually using cloud services”.

However, they also reported that the picture was different for larger businesses and those who were aware of the technology, suggesting that awareness was a key reason why cloud computing had “yet to catch on in Qatar”.

Other reasons for this variance include IT maturity, market needs, security concerns and hype.

Gartner’s “annual hype cycle”, which provides a graphical representation of how the expectations of emerging technologies map against their usage and maturity, currently places cloud computing in its wonderfully-named “trough of disillusionment”.

This label does not mean that this technology is failing, but rather that perhaps it has yet to live up to earlier (perhaps overhyped) expectations. The same can also be said of the other technologies sitting in the same “trough”, with Near Field Communication (NFC), Augmented Reality and Machine-to-Machine Communication all taking longer than originally anticipated to become mass-market.

Moving forward, awareness and attitudes towards the cloud will no doubt change, as cloud technology becomes more ingrained in our home and working lives. Whether this will drive an increase in adoption will depend on your situation. But in a competitive market, anything that can potentially help you to gain a competitive advantage merits exploration.

Resources: To help you understand if the cloud is for you, ictQATAR has produced an eBook that explains in more detail the basics of cloud computing, alongside tips on determining if it is right for you.

Damian Radcliffe is writing in a personal capacity.

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