Cloud computing is an emerging technology that has evolved from the concept of grid computing. Using the internet or Web as a platform, it allows consumers to tap into a central network of hardware and software. This essentially offloads the burden of computational power from their end onto a virtual ‘cloud’ setup that provides everything from storage and processing to applications and services. For example, many internet services, including streaming media, social networking, and online searching are now delivered through the cloud.
The cloud computing paradigm has made a tidal impact on modern technologies, such as the Internet of Things, mobile Internet, and knowledge work automation. Smartphone popularity is largely driven by the ability to access a multitude of applications, many of which are reliant on cloud resources. It is estimated that by 2025 cloud technology will have an economic impact of up to $6.2 trillion per year, and a bulk of this will be attributable to Internet applications and services dependent on cloud computing technology.1
Cloud computing also has major implications for enterprises. Rather than investing in expensive IT infrastructure, a company can simply hire the required resources and applications to be delivered through the cloud. This has several advantages. For one, valuable capital need not be tied up in bulky hardware or inflexible software that may become rapidly obsolete. Secondly, cloud systems are flexible: companies can easily match use with demand by terminating redundant services or rapidly adding them as needed. Thirdly, the cost of setting up a cloud system is only about a third of what it takes to install and manage the necessary hardware and software locally. Finally, cloud setups are generally more reliable. Since equipment in the cloud network is interconnected in a way that allows dynamic workload distribution, localized failures in the cloud setup are less likely to interrupt services and cause productivity losses.
Smaller businesses are particularly likely to benefit from cloud computing. By outsourcing IT needs to cloud-based services, young companies may enjoy productivity boosts without sacrificing a hefty amount of capital, allowing them to compete with well-established businesses. In the long term, cloud technology is anticipated to be a key factor in enabling new entrepreneurship.
Since its inception, not only has cloud computing improved in terms of performance but has also become less expensive. The future will likely see an increasing number of software companies revising their business models to provide their services through the cloud. For example, the popular Microsoft Office suite is already being offered over the Internet as Office 365. According to one estimate, as the Internet continues to grow in keeping with the current trend, nearly all media consumption could eventually be provided via cloud-based systems. Furthermore, modern technologies like the Internet of Things and automated knowledge work could flourish by harnessing the power of pooled computational resources delivered through the cloud. By 2025, the additional revenue from a cloud-computing enabled Internet could value trillions of dollars.1
While cloud computing has gained widespread popularity, it is still a relatively new technology that needs to overcome certain challenges. Technological barriers, for instance, are a major hindrance to the delivery of cloud-based services. The burgeoning use of cloud technology is beginning to strain mobile network capacity, and as more consumers try to stream HD media, the discrepancy between demand and network capacity will widen. To counter this problem, technology providers are already trialing the next generation of broadband networks. An example is the Google Fiber, which is about a 100 times as fast as the best commercial broadband.
Cloud computing technology also poses privacy and reliability concerns. Many users have reservations about using cloud storage as the primary repository for memorable photos, videos, or personal records. Similarly, some enterprises are reluctant to entrust a third-party cloud with sensitive data pertaining to the company. It certainly doesn’t help that current policies are unclear on the legal ownership of data stored on cloud systems.
The upcoming decade will see the cloud-enabled Internet become a major player in the acceleration of economic growth worldwide. As cloud platforms become increasingly sophisticated the use of cloud-based services will proliferate, making it increasingly vital that providers of cloud computing services strengthen the reliability and security of their systems. At the same time, policy makers will be tasked with laying down clear regulations to protect the privacy of consumers and prevent misuse of information contained within cloud systems.
As we look into the far future and the impact on human evolution it is not too difficult extrapolate the use of this platform out for using stored information accessible by our coming neural implants to exponentially increase the instantly available knowledge as we go about our daily pursuits and interactions.
- McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, May 2013