How the Cloud Is Allowing Computers to Realize Their Potential

Ever since the dawn of the computer age, we have been seeking a mythical computer utopia.  A place where computers are truly an integral part of our lives and truly bring benefit to them.  I’m reminded, to some degree, of the car in the Robert Heinlein novel “Number of the Beast” that was in virtual constant communications with its owners, was able to write its own programs, etc (It may have been more of a computer that had an interface in the car, I haven’t read the book in probably 30 years).  Steve Jobs certainly had this vision, as is discussed in the book “Insanely Great”.  However, there is always the sense that we haven’t quite gotten there yet.  The ring is just out of reach.  It is always dangerous to say that thus and such a technology will allow us to grasp the ring, so I won’t go there.  However, I will say that Cloud technology has allowed us to move closer to the ring.

We all think of the cloud as a way to store data or deploy applications outside of our own data centers, and that is still its primary objective.  There is a necessarily positive side effect of doing this.  That is, I can now access these applications and data from anywhere.  When I started moving more of our functions into the cloud, it was, in part, so that our small team could function anywhere.  It dawned on me this morning, that this, still, was only the tip of the iceberg.  In fact, it is the ability to work anywhere, and on any device, that is key.  I am working in my home office right now, with no devices that belong to my company.  Yet, I needed to see what time a couple of meetings were today.  I looked on my iPad (because it was the closest device to me and was open at the time).  As I opened the collection where my calendar was, I was actually looking for a planner app I had been using a while back, but it wasn’t there anymore.  I then remembered why.  I had run across several planner apps that were something like the Covey planner system.  I like the way they handled tasks and presented everything holistically.  However, the bad ones were almost unusable, but the good ones used an independent system of tasks and reminders from the iOS ones.  Suddenly, any tasks I created were only available on my iPad.  I stopped using them.

My calendar, however, is available on every device I own.  From my office laptop, to my personal laptop, iPhone, iPad, you name it.  So are my reminders.  So are my emails.  So these apps are actually useful because they allow me to have my data at the ready wherever I am.  I’ll admit the most important device in this regard is my phone.  Not because I use it for that much, I don’t.  It is because it is the one device that is always with me.

In order for this sharing of data between devices to work, the data must exist in the cloud somewhere.  The alternative is to perform an inter computer sync, which was quite the rage for a while with different applications, but is beginning to go the way of the dinosaur.  Calendar, email, tasks, etc., are all in the cloud for a lot of us.  A growing number of applications will use a cloud file storage solution (Box, DropBox, Skydrive, etc.) as a backend.  I use DropBox extensively in my personal life simply because it permits me to have access to a lot of information no matter where I am.  Evernote is increasingly the poster child for this sort of functionality.  As I’ve looked at applications for things like handwritten note capture, I’ve dropped a great number of them because they either don’t provide a seamless multi device utilization model.

You see, the cloud allows our computers to be more integrated with our lives, and truly become servants.  Although a legitimate argument can be made that computers have taken over our lives, I think that is looking at the situation incorrectly.  When we had to go sit at a desk and fire up a machine, wait for the boot cycle, then dig for information in order to achieve our goals, we were slaves to the machine.  Somewhat like Oliver Twist begging for more, we would approach the machines like they were our masters.  Now, I expect my information to be at my finger tips when I want it, on my terms.  A bit more like Downton Abbey, where I can pull a cord from whatever room I am in, and a servant will arrive ready to provide whatever I need.  Applications that cannot perform this task are of no use to me, and must be banished.

When I first began thinking about using the cloud, it was all about risk mitigation and cost management.  Now, I see it more as how to enable computers to truly be integrated in our lives.  The next step, is to begin to educate my user base on this, so that they can realize these benefits.