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IT just scratching surface of cloud computing technology

With wide-ranging implications on apps, devices and more, cloud is more than an IT project or strategy. Are you prepared for IT's next big shift?

If you're an IT manager or executive, you've probably started your cloud journey. You've likely migrated applications...

to the cloud, or deployed cloud as your primary hosting environment. And now, you think you're a cloud veteran. Well, you're just getting started. Few users have discovered the full impact of cloud -- but every business could benefit by doing so.

First, the cloud isn't an IT strategy -- it's an application architecture and a new computing model. For decades, IT struggled to get closer to the user. Today, cloud computing technology makes that possible with a global computing fabric that can touch any smartphone, tablet, laptop or wearable device. But since we've never seen anything like cloud, IT has yet to fully exploit it. To feel the full cloud impact, users need to do three things: think in terms of hierarchical processes; build applications around events; and turn mobile devices into virtual humans.

Cloud as an application architecture

One of the most significant cloud computing advantages is the ability to divide processing into successive control points rather than sequential steps. For example, a driver needs to know local conditions in real time to avoid a crash, but has more time to determine the best overall path to a destination. With traditional computing, these tasks are combined into a single, more efficient application.

But with cloud, a vehicular process element -- or a distributed application residing in the vehicle -- can receive information about local conditions, while making decisions on acceleration, braking and steering. The driver must also determine his next turn. To do this, he's connected to a deeper element that understands the route and where the vehicle is within it.

That ability depends on even deeper communication with a route manager, or another process element outside the vehicle that knows where the driver wants to go. This driving process -- much like application processing in the cloud -- can be performed closer to or further from the user, depending on the need for real-time information. As a result, central services can support complex or infrequently used activities, such as route calculation, as well as improve information analysis and reduce costs.

Productivity support is similar, but it can be difficult for application planners to adopt this same kind of thinking. For example, when a new job starts, we think of a worker arriving on-site, preparing tools, doing the work and then checking the work. But it's better to map out an overall goal and track the worker as he moves through the task. The local element in this model handles small tasks related to local conditions, such as finding an address or picking the correct wire or pipe. Each of these elements is hosted in its optimal location -- the worker's mobile device or the company's data center. Each element also draws on services at the appropriate level, including location-based services for general movement, blueprint analysis for more detailed direction and work orders for process control. The cloud's distributed resource and information pool facilitates this different way to organize work.

Driving event-based processes with cloud

This application architecture model underpins another critical step to cloud optimization -- event-based processes. Desktop applications are used to plan -- not support -- an activity, because use occurs before the activity. Mobile devices and the cloud allow users to interact with information and resources during a task. This requires applications to work like people and analyze what's happening, as well as recommend the next steps.

Local process elements in the cloud are information conduits that assess, filter and classify information, then pass it on for handling. As a result, the worker in the aforementioned example receives instructions as needed, rather than having to ask. This requires deeper processes to track the worker and accurately interpret events, which is not possible with traditional workflows and transactions.

The cloud is also humanizing devices. Users can search for information using only speech, and major vendors including Apple, Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft are working to expand voice control. While questions like "What's that?" or "Who's that?" were difficult to answer for traditional computing devices, cloud makes it possible.

Computing wouldn't have advanced much if microprocessors were only used to produce smaller, cheaper mainframes. The distribution of intelligence, along with better cost and performance, led to the PC and Internet age. Cloud is the next big shift. New techniques enabled by new technology and lower costs will redefine our relationship with IT.

About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.

Next Steps

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This was last published in January 2015

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