Cloud computing means components of the computing experience (files, applications, storage) can be hosted on a server across the network. As we use the term today, the “cloud” is basically the Internet.
Much like the famous quote about time, technology also marches on. During the past two to three years, much has been made about "cloud computing" and what it will do to revolutionize the future. Let's take a look at exactly what cloud computing means, what anything "as-a-service" means (e.g. software as a service, or SaaS) and what effect it may have on our industry.
Computing Storm on Horizon
At its foundation, cloud computing simply means components of the computing experience such as files, applications and storage can be hosted on a server somewhere across the network, whether that's across a building, campus or the Internet. As we use the term today, the "cloud" is basically the Internet.
In the early days of computing, mainframes took up entire rooms with "dumb" clients that were simple input/display devices which had no intelligence or processing power. As technology shrunk and got faster, the PC came about and offered all the processing power of the mainframe, and more. It became an all-in-one device.
For large companies, managing large numbers of PCs became a headache, so servers were deployed to handle centralized file management and backup. For some very large applications, the thin-client concept worked better, where everything a user would need, from applications to files, would reside on a server. The user would then only have a small device in the form of a desktop computer with a keyboard and mouse.
These thin-client systems provided a foundation that led directly to cloud computing. Once the Internet gained steam and became what it is today, more companies started thinking about using it to provide remotely hosted software, hardware and services.
One of the earliest and best known examples of cloud computing is Web-based E-mail. Web mail services have been around for many years now, and are widely used and accepted. Basically, your Web mail provider of choice sets up an E-mail server in a datacenter somewhere, and sells connections and space on the server (or gives it away for free in exchange for being able to send you advertising at the same time). This is the essence of cloud computing.
We are now seeing more and more steps toward true cloud computing. Google Apps is an excellent example. If you subscribe to Gmail (which is free), you can also get access to the apps, or a collection of office productivity applications like we described above: word processing, spreadsheets, etc. These software applications are never installed on your PC. They are only accessible via the Internet. In addition, multiple users can access the same documents being produced by the Google Apps service, providing excellent collaborative services.
Along with the new services and remote applications, we get another new stream of acronyms and terms. This concept of providing a software application as a remote service is now referred to as software as a service (SaaS), sometimes called security as a service in our industry. Many similar terms are being coined, such as infrastructure as a service, which provides full server capabilities for remote clients, and video surveillance as a service (VSaaS).
Basically, the idea of true convergence in future applications is for everything to be integrated directly into our environment, and for the PC itself to be a thing of the past. You will no longer need to install applications on a box in your home to do things, as most electronic items in your home will have direct connections to the Internet, or cloud, and do all the heavy work (processing, updating, etc.) behind the scenes.
Access, Video Are Ideal Services
We all know our industry as a whole for the most part follows wherever technology leads, so it is inevitable we see the introduction of the as-a-service concept in our markets. When you consider how much of our product offerings are network dependent, it really makes sense. Add to that the potential to create new recurring monthly revenue (RMR) streams and you have an all-around golden opportunity.