The role of cloud in tech trends


By combining historical data, real-time measurements and advanced analytics, smart machines perform tasks humans could not do alone. The machines are typically not self-contained – their “memory” and “brain” live in the cloud where they can be rapidly scaled to meet requirements.


This describes the trend of moving beyond typically inflexible corporate IT systems towards adopting the agile development methods and flexible, scalable deployment pioneered by major cloud-based organisations, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon Web Services.


The closest most of us will get to a “Beam me up, Scotty” experience in our lifetime is likely to be through cloud-based hubs for 3D printing, where design and rendering software is loaded and blueprints for all kinds of things can be exchanged. Fast advances in medical bio printing, however, mean we may soon say, “Beam me a new liver, Scotty.”


This trend makes the cloud more versatile. Traditionally, data centres were filled with specialised hardware (firewalls, routers, servers, storage) dedicated to one task. A data centre configured for a bank could not double at night as a data centre for streaming movies. Software-defined architectures remove this constraint by creating a web-scale “mesh” of versatile hardware – its function defined by software – that can switch between different capabilities in minutes, not days or months.


The IoT connects physical objects to each other and to the people and machines that want to interact with them. Although these “things” can now communicate, often via an IP address, individually they remain rather simple. It is the cloud that makes them into a meaningful ecosystem that can, with analytics and smart machines, help humans turn all this information into better decisions concerning, for example, routing traffic, saving energy and so on.


In client/server computing the application was stored on our PC and the data was stored on the server. Now, the various servers of the cloud run the application and often hold much of the data, and the client (our PC, mobile, tablet, wearable) simply processes and displays the information from the cloud.


IT in the past has always tried to eliminate risk. In the cloud that’s not possible and trying to be risk-free is simply a roadblock to progress. The cloud is too big and open to fully protect, but anything and anyone connecting to it should, within reason, be able to protect itself or themselves. That may sound scary at first, but it’s how we live our lives when we go out into the world. Though we are protected from the worst threats by the police, we don’t assume there are no risks. It’s similar for our applications and devices; they must learn to weigh up risks and threats for themselves, instead of working under the assumption that they operate in a completely safe environment.


Most of us experience this through our smartphones already, when Google Now, Cortana or Siri informs us, without being asked, of a traffic jam or broken train on our commute home and offers a faster route. It appears a simple thing, but the vast volume of data required and smart analytics to process this data into useful information instead of annoying spam wouldn’t be possible without the cloud.


Soon everything will be computerised, from toothbrushes to thermostats to cars. Connecting them all together, storing and making sense of all the data they create, and providing relevant services via our devices, will be the cloud. Businesses must understand how the cloud fundamentally changes their business models, because it dramatically alters the relationship between consumers and the product or service they use.


This applies to a great many of the trends cited here. How will risk-based security work? How does a smart machine make decisions? How do things such as Google Now, Siri or Cortana give us timely, useful information? The answers are by using contextual information – our location, the time, temperature or traffic conditions. What stores and makes sense of all this contextual information and makes it easy for us and our devices to access? The cloud. We’re already used to content being one search away, but even that will seem old fashioned when the cloud already knows what we are looking for.