Heads in the Clouds

When I was a kid, I used to lie on the front lawn and stare into the sky. For countless hours, I’d try to identify shapes in the clouds.

These days, my head is still in the clouds, except it has nothing to do with meteorology. I spend much of my day working on a Web browser, running software that sits on an anonymous server — also known as cloud computing, or software as a service (SaaS). Although I still have a few boxes of software sitting on my shelf, my shift away from installing applications locally is well under way.

And I’m not alone. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported recently that 69 percent of online users now employ cloud computing in one form or another. Anyone who uses Hotmail, Gmail or Facebook is working in the cloud.

Further, in the wake of the success of Salesforce.com — an on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) solution — software vendors have been scrambling to produce online offerings, leading Gartner to project that cloud computing soon will be pervasive.

It seems this transformation is a result of three closely related paradigm shifts:

  • The ubiquitous availability of high-speed Internet access for businesses and consumers.
  • The move from static Web 1.0 pages to dynamic Web 2.0-based applications.
  • Increased demand from mobile users.

Before these shifts, only a conventional desktop, laptop computer or LAN-based server had the guts to support a full-featured business-productivity application. Mobile devices had neither the horsepower…



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