Ah, the cloud. It evokes images of an ethereal blue sky, within which floats a white fluffy ball of cotton. Then there’s cloud computing: Neither ethereal nor fluffy, it will likely soon be more ubiquitous than the personal computer.
There are two aspects to cloud computing: One is the data management side, where clients pay a monthly fee to rent storage space in the cloud for digital files; the other is the apps side, where a subscription service provides software from the cloud that previously would’ve been purchased and manually installed on each machine that needed to utilize that program.
Conventional wisdom seems to favor the cloud as the way of the future. In fact, IT research firm Gartner predicts the cloud will replace the PC as the center of users’ digital lives by 2014.
At this point, most of us who have used a computer have encountered some aspect of the cloud. For example, if you’ve ever utilized a Web-based email service, listened to music or streamed a movie over the Internet, you’ve most likely used the cloud. Downloaded an app to your smartphone? That’s the cloud at work.
Admittedly, I initially had difficulty wrapping my mind around the cloud and how it could be beneficial until I discussed the topic with some experts at a mobile health conference last year in Cambridge, Mass. I couldn’t understand how the cloud could conserve resources, such as power and space, until someone mentioned the term “multi-tenancy.”
Clients can share space and resources, allowing servers to run at full efficiency at or near capacity. The cloud will also serve to level the playing field and improve communication: All subscribers will automatically receive updates for their respective apps and programs, so that each will be running the latest version.
But the technology is not without its detractors.
“Cloud computing will never come to full fruition,” I overheard someone say at HIMSS12 (which was held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas).
I asked why.
“Because they are afraid of their own shadow,” he answered, implying that prospective client fears about how best to implement security protocols could be the cloud’s undoing.
Indeed, there are numerous concerns with the cloud environment, the possibility of security breaches and private data not remaining private certainly chief among them.
Right now, cloud computing is like the Wild West. On the positive side, the door to creativity is wide open, and those with good ideas and the foresight to implement them should be able to walk right through and be justly rewarded. On the negative side, rules and regulations will have to be implemented to maintain security and protect privacy. (Here, we already have a head start in healthcare IT, but it’s all about logistics and implementation.) History has shown us we can’t depend on companies to do the right thing, for they are beholden only to their shareholders.
Like the early days of the Internet, the advent of cloud computing makes this an exciting time for IT. It will be interesting to see what storms the cloud brings …