New cloud on horizon but forecast is good

Bespoke app development on the cloud is something new that forecasters predict has a bright future, writes Charles Orton-Jones

Hopefully we are all now familiar with the benefits of the cloud. The lower capital expenditure, the joy of passing on the job of maintenance to someone else, the limitless scalability – these have been talked about so much it feels almost redundant to rehash them.

So, what’s next with the cloud? What are we going to be talking about for the next five years?

Here’s one debate generating a lot of noise: bespoke app development on the cloud. It’s in its infancy right now, but the way the cloud works means ordinary firms are going to be able to create their own applications.

Apps for smartphones are already being made in large numbers on the cloud. Using an online service such as Appery.io, you can drag and drop components via a browser to build your app. Add plug-ins from the online catalogue and hey presto, your app is ready to go. With nothing to download or install, it really is that easy.

Adam Spearing, area vice-president of Salesforce.com, reckons this approach is about to transform the cloud. “A few years ago, app development was dominated by people who were typified by their extreme focus and deep expertise in code and systems. Frequently they had computer science training and tons of rigorous study time to become an expert. After all, building apps was complex,” he says.

“Fast forward to 2014 and everything you know about app development has changed. The cloud makes it easier than ever to create great applications, regardless of your background. Anyone can take ideas and turn them into solutions faster than ever before. Kids use Scratch and create interactive apps, while LEGO Mindstorms and Raspberry Pi are bringing them a ‘maker culture’ in engaging ways.

“Businesspeople can create enterprise cloud apps without a professional programming background, too, as sites such as CodeAcademy make it easy for non-programmers to learn the logic of coding. And leading platform-as-a-service solutions give employees enough flexibility to build their own apps while ensuring they meet the governance needed by corporate IT.”

Researchers at Gartner estimate that, within three years, 25 per cent of large enterprises will have their own app stores. Cloud-based software vendor EvaluAgent already offers a workforce optimisation platform which is 80 per cent hard-coded and 20 per cent tweakable.

EvaluAgent managing director Jamie Scott says: “Bespoke application development is possibly the most compelling reason for firms to move to the cloud, but many companies are not aware of this. Imagine a world where software can be customised to fit a company’s existing business processes as a standard part of the set-up process, without involving prohibitive charges. This is now already becoming a reality thanks to the cloud.”

Businesspeople can create enterprise cloud apps without a professional programming background

Another trend worth paying attention to is the rise of virtualised environments for graphically intensive applications. Historically, if you wanted to run Photoshop or AutoCAD, you needed to do it on your own computer. Will that stay the same? Not according to Nvidia, one of the world’s leading makers of graphics chips and cards.

Nvidia vice-president Greg Estes says: “Previously, cloud offerings could not run graphics-rich programmes such as Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Adobe’s Creative Suite, but we are now seeing more and more companies moving their most 3D-intensive users to a virtual set-up. This allows access to critical applications, anywhere, from any device, providing employees with more flexibility as well as eliminating the need for local cumbersome desktops.”

This change could lead to consumers gaming on the cloud. Mr Estes forecasts: “It offers freedom from consoles, where service operators can use this technology as the base for their on-demand gaming-as-a-service. This move will lead to a revolution in gaming across any device of any quality, be it a PC, Mac, tablet, smartphone or TV.”

Cost will remain a tricky area for the cloud. It’s still annoyingly hard to get a full picture on expenditure and return on investment. Service level agreements (SLAs) need clearing up too. According to Compuware, 79 per cent of IT professionals believe SLAs are sub-standard and 75 per cent say cloud-providers may be hiding problems, often using holes in the SLA to get away with it.

Security will never stop being an issue for the cloud. And now we have regional legal issues to grapple with. Do you want the United States government to requisition your data? What about EU data-protection laws? It is revealing that BT now permits its cloud customers to locate their data in the country of their choice; and there are 16 to choose from.

One last prediction? The good news stories will just keep coming. Such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which switched in-house automation processes over to a hosted system by Redwood Software. The cloud now handles the direct debits, gift-aid paperwork and donor tracking.

Does it work? The RSPB’s data manager Andrew Oldham says: “As a charity, we want to focus our efforts on not-for-profit activity, so it makes a massive difference to us not having to worry about hardware, infrastructure or maintenance costs. Automation has been monumental in boosting the charity’s productivity.”

No matter how the cloud develops, this is what matters.