For about 18 months, one of the items on my “to do” list has been to write a paper about something called the “personal cloud”. It’s been slipping due to a number of other priorities but now, partly due to corporate marketing departments abusing the term to make it mean something entirely different, I’ve started to witness some revolt against what some see as yet another attempt at cloudwashing.
On the face of it, critics may have a point – after all, isn’t this just another example of someone making something up and making sure the name includes “cloud”? Well, when you look at what some vendors are doing, dressing up remote access solutions and adding a “cloud” moniker, then yes, personal cloud is nonsensical – but the whole point about a personal cloud is that it is not a one vendor solution – indeed a personal cloud is not even something that you can go out and buy.
I was chatting about this with a colleague, David Gentle (@davegentle), earlier and I think he explains the personal cloud concept really simply. Fundamentally, there are two principles:
- The personal cloud is the equivalent of what we might once have called personal productivity – the consumption of office applications, file storage and collaboration tools in a cloud-like manner. It’s more of a B2C concept than B2B but it is, perhaps, the B2C equivalent of an organisation consuming SaaS or IaaS services.
- Personal clouds become really important when you work with multiple devices. We’re all fine when we work on one device (e.g. a corporate laptop) but, once we add a smartphone, a tablet, etc. the experience of interacting and sharing between devices has real value. To give an example, Dropbox is a good method for sharing large files but it has a lot more value once it is used across several devices and the value is the user experience, rather than any one device-specific solution.
I expect to see personal cloud rising above the (BYO) mobile device story as a major element of IT consumerisation (see my post from this time last year, based on Joe Baguley’s talk about the consumerisation of IT being nothing to do with iPads) because point solutions (like Dropbox, Microsoft OneNote and SkyDrive, Apple iCloud) are just the tip of the iceberg – the personal cloud has huge implications for IT service delivery. At some point, we will ask why do we need some of the enterprise IT services – what do they actually do for us that a personal cloud providing access to all of our data and services doesn’t? (I seem to recall Joe exclaiming something similar to that corporate IT provides systems for timesheeting, expenses and free printing in the office!)
As for the “personal cloud” name – another colleague, Vin Hughes, did some research for the first reference to the term and he found something remarkable similar (although not called the personal cloud) dating back to 1945 – Vannevar Bush’s “Memex”. If that’s stretching the point a little, how about when the BBC reported in 2002 on Microsoft’s plans for a personal online life archive? So, when was the “personal cloud” term coined? It would seem to be around 2008 – an MIT Technology Review post from December 2007 talks about how cloud computing services have the potential to alter the digital world (in a consumer context) but it doesn’t use the personal cloud term. One month later, however, a comment on a blog post about SaaS refers to “personal cloud computing”, albeit talking about provisioning personal servers, rather than consuming application and platform services as we do today (all that this represents is a move up the cloud stack as we think less about hardware and operating systems and more about accessing data). So it seems that the “personal cloud” is not something that was dreamed up particularly recently…
So, why haven’t IT vendors been talking about this? Well, could it be that this is potentially a massive threat (maybe the largest) to many IT vendors’ businesses – the personal cloud is a very big disruptive trend in the enterprise space and, as Dave put it: