Saturday, December 18, 2010

Look to the clouds not the slates

According to media reports, Microsoft is to show Windows based slate (tablet) computers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. I suggest not getting too excited by this. Microsoft have a long way to go to catch up to Apple with mobile devices. The Apple iPhone dominates the upper end of the smart phone market and Google Android the budget end. I expect the same will happen with tablets. Google are maturing their Android system for tablets.

In corporate terms what is happening with "Cloud" computing is perhaps more interesting than tablet computers. If you are using web based cloud hosted applications, be they from Google, Microsoft,, or someone else, then you don't need much more than a web browser in your desktop computers or tablets. It does not matter much what operating system is used on the client device as long as it has a web browser to access the corporate application in the cloud. You can then use the same corporate applications on smart phones, tablet computers, netbooks, laptops and desktop computers. You need not worry about the compatibility of your corporate applications running on all these devices nor arranging long term retention of data on them.

There are some news reports of the SA government considering cloud computing, after the success of some of the SA education sector's success with using a Microsoft hosted service.

Ian Foster from Argonne National Laboratory talked at ANU on using software as a service for large scale scientific computing recently.

In my view using cloud computing for corporate services is a very high risk strategy, as it can result in loss of control of data. APRA has warned the banks about this.

A better approach is that suggested by Yusuf J. Mansuri, First Assistant Secretary, ICT Strategic & Corporate Services Division, Department of Human Services at "Cloud Computing Conference and Expo 2010" in Sydney in September, where he hinted at an Australian Government Cloud Computing Centre. The idea would be to have a shared facility on Australian territory, so it is subject to Australian law and shared by organisations with compatible procedures and aims.

Universities would similarly be a group with common aims who could use a joint facility. We have more than enough technology to allow secure sharing of such facilities. The issue is if we have governance and financial structures up to the challenge. Previous attempts at shared IT services between universities have mostly failed as they depended on sharing development of new bespoke software. Sharing a data centre and hardware is much simpler. One obvious way would be to contract the service out to the private sector. But another would be to use a non-profit organisation like the National Computational Infrastructure and AARnet.

Apart from saving organisations a lot of money (and CIOs a lot of worry), this central service approach will also save a lot of electrical energy and therefore carbon emissions.

However there are a lot of corporate issues to resolve in sharing a hosted computer system. One easy approach is to outsource the provision of a specific service which is hosted remotely. An example of this is when a educational institution changes to a new Learning Management System (LMS). Because the LMS provides a relatively self-contained set of services and uses a web interface, it can be easily provided by an external hosting service.
The university just needs to provide a network for desktop and mobile web clients to access the remote service. They do not need to run a a money and energy hungry server, or maintain educational software on the clients. Both ANU and University of Canberra converted from an internal Web CT to externally hosted Moodle service. There are companies which specialise in providing LMS hosting. This allows the company to optimise their computer system to run just one type of software for multiple clients. The same is done for accounting, CRM and other software services.

1 comment:

  1. I would argue that 'Cloud Computing' and 'Slate/Tablet' devices are coextensive technologies: one opens up the possibilities of the other.

    Tablets/Slates are the right kind of portable, networked device to interface with cloud/virtualised services via lightweight/web interfaces. They're big enough for sensible cognitive engagement, without being overly cumbersome.

    There is scope for them to become thinner, and as the network expands connectivity, for end user experience to be seamless.