Cloud Computing and the Consumer

April 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials


Even if consumers don’t know what cloud computing is, they’re probably using it.

‘neb·u·lous’ – adjective – cloudy or cloudlike –

‘Lick’ has a lot to answer for. In 1963 Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, ‘Lick’ to his friends, wrote a memo to his colleagues entitled ‘Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network’. It began apologising for his postponement of a meeting, but by the end he had laid the groundwork for a term which still baffles consumers nearly 50 years later. Lick stressed the importance in computers developing “a capability for integrated network operation… such a network as I envisage nebulously”.

The phrase ‘Cloud Computing’ was born. It probably wasn’t the best description, Licklider admitted in the same memo “as you may have detected… I am at a loss for a name”, but the analogy stuck. Today Gartner predicts the Cloud Computing Market will be worth $150 billion by 2013 and that by 2014 60 per cent of server workloads will be spent processing Cloud data. It cannot be stopped and it should not be stopped. It already dominates consumers’ lives and, as one report observed, this year’s CES (the world’s largest consumer tech event) “should have been called the Cloud Electronics Show”.

What is Cloud Computing?

So what on earth is it? The simplest definition of Cloud Computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, where the service is provided over a network (typically the Internet). Pure Cloud Computing includes web email such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo email; social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and ‘streaming’ Internet entertainment services like Spotify, Netflix and BBC iPlayer. A great deal of productivity software lives “in the Cloud” as well such as Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365. Modern file synchronisation and backup services are all ‘Cloud-based’ too including Apple iCloud, Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive.

It isn’t technically correct, but an easy rule of thumb is to substitute ‘Cloud’ for ‘Internet’. Yes it really isn’t all that difficult, but despite continual media hype, most consumers have no idea what Cloud Computing is or how it works. In August last year the NPD Group announced research which claimed just 22 per cent of consumers were familiar with the term, though 76 per cent of respondents reported using some type of Cloud-based service in the past 12 months.

“Whether they understand the terminology or not, consumers are actually pretty savvy in their use of cloud-based applications,” concluded Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD. “They might not always recognize they are performing activities in the cloud, yet they still rely on and use those services extensively.”

Little else matters. Henry Ford didn’t care whether customers understood the inline four-cylinder monobloc flathead engine inside the Model T and he didn’t require them to define precisely what an automobile was. Ford just wanted consumers to buy it and by doing so in their droves they created a new sector that took society to the next level. Cloud Computing is no different and the benefits to its widespread adoption are arguably even greater.

This is no tongue in cheek statement…

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