Forecast Calls for Cloudy Skies

Once we called upon Zeus and Horus. Then we created machines to serve and rule us. Now we cast our eyes anew to the heavens to conjure up what we want.

What fresh magic is this? It’s cloud computing, shifting software from your office, desktop, lap, and pocket to remote data centers that you access through the Internet. Setting you free in one sense, yet also making it more difficult to escape the reach and watch of technology.

Discs are as dead as the Victrola: increasingly you’ll go to the cloud to download apps for your limited purpose, stream a movie, or look for extra server space.

It may sound a little nebulous, but one thing is clear: it’s clearly getting more overcast all the time. The worldwide market for cloud services is likely to grow to $148.8 billion in 2014 from $58.6 billion in 2009, according to Gartner Research. “The last time companies saw this big a shift in computing was when PCs entered the workplace over 20 years ago,” says Ben Pring, a senior research analyst at Gartner. In the next five years, companies will spend $112 billion cumulatively on software delivered over the Internet (a.k.a., “software as a service”) and comparable services, according to Gartner.

By November 2009, about 100,000 companies used cloud applications, according to Bruce Richardson, former chief research officer at AMR Research. In a May 2008 report, Merrill Lynch estimated that 12 percent of the worldwide software market would go to the cloud by 2013 and be worth $95 billion.  [Source: BusinessWeek, Check out the article for good examples of companies saving money with the cloud.]

Cloud computing isn’t new — Gmail, Flicker, Picasa, Dropbox, and streaming media are all cloud-based services. But storms are brewing as big players like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Salesforce compete for your business. Security is an issue — personal data stored in the cloud is under constant hacker assault, although security experts say having remote tech experts guarding their servers (and your information) is safer than you doing the job yourself. Data ownership could also be a problem if the owner of the server you’re using changes the rules and decides it can sell your uploaded photos, for instance.

Whatever happens, look for your PC and its operating system to be gone with the wind before long. Gone will be the hassles that long marked our days: installing software, protecting it from viruses, remembering where you stored information, losing everything when you forgot to back it up. You’ll continue to need access to electrical power (and long battery life), but much of what you thought you knew about computing is changing.

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