No Clouds on Obama’s Horizon

While I was glued to the TV, following the coverage of the inauguration of the new US president, I couldn’t help wondering about a slightly more mundane story, namely, which mobile device Barrack Obama would use. I was less interested in what kind of device he would actually get (though I’m sure everyone at CCS Insight has an opinion on which phone is best), but rather how he’ll use mobile data and applications.

Looking at all the announcements in 2008 it would be easy to suggest the future of IT and mobile computing will be in “the cloud”. I’m sure the president’s security team less than thrilled at the idea that Obama’s data and applications could be stored and processed on remote third-party servers. Yet for the rest of us, the concept sounds particularly seductive, especially in the wireless world, which can be hampered by limited storage capacity and cumbersome application downloads. In an over-simplification, Google is the trendsetter that the market’s likely to follow.

The biggest problem I have with cloud computing is the wildly diverse definitions of what it actually entails. But even if we could agree on a more precise understanding, I see three major inhibitors to it taking off in the short term: security, interoperability and business models.

As with any discussion of software-as-a-service, security is probably the biggest concern. For me, it’s not about certification but “emotional” security. The data losses suffered almost daily by government agencies and large corporations show how valid these concerns are.

Interoperability raises similar concerns. It’s easy to point out that cloud-based applications undergo high levels of testing, but anyone who’s upgraded their PC operating system can give you a list of reasons why testing isn’t everything.

And lastly the business models that underpin the adoption of any technology might actually hinder its progress. Network operators and device manufacturers will look at Google’s foray into the mobile sector with mixed emotions. On the one hand, there’s a strong temptation to build up extra short-term revenue. On the other, the emergence of a dominant player like Microsoft in the PC industry is likely to make them hesitate.

I think it unlikely that the US president will have Google cloud-based services on his official mobile device, despite his frequent use of Twitter on the campaign trail. But despite the inhibitors I’ve mentioned, I believe the rest of us will see cloud computing eventually become the norm. Initially, it’ll be adopted in IT infrastructure, rather than applications, before becoming a commodity. But I think we’ll see a new US president before it reaches that stage.