Short takes: the rise of the personal cloud; what’s in an app; and some thoughts on Oracle

A few highlights from my week that didn’t grow into blog posts of their own…

Oracle: complete, open and integrated

I was at an Oracle event earlier this week when I heard the following comment that amused me somewhat (non-attributed to protect the not-so-innocent):

“Oracle likes to say they are complete, open and integrated – and they are:

  • Complete – as in ‘we have a long price list’.
  • Open – as in ‘we’re not arrogant enough to think you buy everything from us’.
  • Integrated – as in ‘if we own both sides of the connection we’ll sell you the integration’.”

I don’t have enough experience of working with Oracle to know how true that is, but it certainly fits the impression I have of the company… I wonder what the Microsoft equivalent would be…

The rise of the Personal Cloud

I’ve been catching up with reading the paper copy of Computing that arrives ever fortnight (and yes, I do prefer the dead tree edition – I wouldn’t generally read the online content without it). One of the main features on 22 March was about the rise of the personal cloud – a contentious topic among some, but one to ignore at your peril as I highlighted in a recent post.

One quote I particularly liked from the article was this one:

“The personal cloud isn’t so much the death of the PC as its demotion. The PC has become just another item in a growing arsenal of access devices.”

Now all we need is for a few more IT departments to wake up to this, and architect their enterprise to deliver device-agnostic services…

What’s app?

In another Computing article, I was reading about some of the technologies that Barclays is implementing and it was interesting to read COO Shaygan Kheradpir’s view on apps:

“Many […] tasks that happen on the front-line are […] app-oriented […].

And what are apps? They are deep and narrow. They’re not like PC applications, which are broad and shallow. You want apps to do one, often complex, task.”

Sounds like Unix to me! (but also pretty much nails why mobile apps work so well in small packages.)

Network access control does its job – but is a dirty network such a bad thing?

Earlier this week, I was dumped from my email and intranet access (mid database update) as my employer’s VPN and endpoint protection conspired against me. It was several hours before I was finally back on the corporate network, meanwhile I could happily access services on the Internet (my personal cloud) and even corporate email using my mobile phone.

Of course, even IT service companies struggle with their infrastructure from time to time (and I should stress that this is a personal blog, that my comments are my own and not endorsed by my employer) but it raises a real issue – for years companies have defended our perimeters and built up defence-in-depth strategies with rings of security. Perhaps that approach is less valid as end users (consumers) are increasingly mobile and what we really need to do is look at the controls on our data and applications – perhaps a “dirty” network is not such a bad thing if the core services (datacentres, etc.) are adequately secured?

I’m not writing this to “out” my employer’s IT – generally it meets my needs and it’s important to note that I could still go into an office, or pick up email on my phone – but I’d be interested to hear the views of those who work in other organisations – especially as I intend to write a white paper on the subject…

In effect, with a “dirty” corporate network, the perimeter moves from the edge of the organisation to its core and office networks are no more secure than the Wi-Fi access provided to guests today – at the same time as many services move to the cloud. Indeed, why not go the whole way and switch from dedicated WAN links to using the public Internet (with adequate controls to encrypt payloads and to ensure continuity or service of course)? And surely there’s no need for a VPN when the applications are all provided as web services?

I’m not suggesting it’s a quick fix – but maybe something for many IT departments to consider in adapting to meet the demands of the “four forces of IT industry transformation”: cloud; mobility; big data/analytics and social business?

[Update: Neil Cockerham (@ncockerhreminded me of the term “de-perimiterisation” – and Ross Dawson (@rossdawson)’s post on tearing down the walls: the future of enterprise tech is exactly what I’m talking about…]

Personal cloud: call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Personal cloudI 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:

@ Personal Cloud. Call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!
@davegentle
davegentle