Tuesday, July 31, 2012
When I started in IT in the mid-1980s, all computer applications ran on the mainframe – a large computer that was efficient and well-managed.
I recall watching “in horror” in the late 1980s and early 1990s as individual departments began to embrace “client-server” computing, where a “server,” which was equivalent to a large PC, began to run critical applications.
There were some benefits – better graphical user interfaces and greater control – but distributing the computing power to hundreds of locations was destined to be a maintenance nightmare.
As individual devices became more powerful, the computing power got pushed further down to the end-user – PCs, laptops, and now smartphones and tablets.
But put everyone on the same network and it seems destined that the pendulum would have swung back to the centralized environment.
From the perspective of a former IT guy with plenty of gray hair, cloud computing is a natural progression…
What Cloud Computing Really Means
Cloud computing is simply any technology service, such as an application, infrastructure, or platform that’s offered to customers over the internet.
With the proliferation of devices connected to the internet, why not keep key resources in a centralized location? This centralization allows everyone to use the “public utility” called the internet to access these resources. There are certain benefits to centralized resources – such as cost efficiencies and a better customer experience.
But what does that mean to me?
The typical internet-savvy consumer has been using services in the cloud for years. If you’ve ever bought anything from Amazon.com, you used your browser and the internet to get on the site and order your goods. That was a transaction occurring in the cloud.
So, it’s easy to see how consumer-facing businesses have already adopted cloud computing for their own purposes.
But what’s now changing is a migration of business-to-business (B2B) transactions also occurring in the cloud. Also, greater trust in the cloud leads to more activity.
The question is – if a company sells products over the cloud, are they a cloud company? The answer is, in this writer’s opinion, no.
When a mining company loaded coal onto a railroad car, were they a railroad company? No! When Pets.com – now part of PetSmart (Nasdaq: PETM) – began selling pet supplies over the internet, were they an internet company? No! They were a pet supply company.
Finding the “Arms Suppliers”
Investors typically want to find the winner in “the war.” Will Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) sell more books over the internet than Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS)? If yes, then Amazon is the winner, right?
The smarter investor will look to the “arms suppliers” in “the war.” Don’t pick a side in the war, pick companies that sell services to all of the war’s participants.
And this is what makes cloud computing so interesting. There are many different levels of “arms suppliers” in these wars.
What are some of the weapons required?
- Centralized Data Centers – The cloud is perfect for the re-centralization of IT resources. Companies like Rackspace (NYSE: RAX), Amazon Web Services, Equinix (Nasdaq: EQIX), OpSource and SunGard. Others include Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE: T).
- Storage – The files you have on your computer are moving to the cloud. Storage, once unthinkable to be moved to the cloud (people want their data near them) is now significantly being used in the cloud. Vendors like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Dropbox, Mozy – owned by EMC (NYSE: EMC) – and Riverbed Technologies (Nasdaq: RVBD) facilitate cloud-based storage solutions.
- Security – Security remains a concern when accessing resources through the internet. Many companies boast of cloud security solutions. Among them are Qualys, Trend Micro (OTC: TMIC.PK), Webroot and Websense (Nasdaq: WBSN).
- Applications – Perhaps the best-known services delivered via the cloud are applications, or software as a service (SaaS). Among the best known in this category are Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), Taleo (Nasdaq: TLEO) and Keynote Systems (Nasdaq: KEYN).
- Virtualization Technology – Cloud-based solutions typically deploy some kind of application or desktop virtualization technology. Vendors leading this charge include VMware (NYSE: VMW) and Citrix (Nasdaq: CTXS).
Beware of companies that claim, “We are a cloud company.” Look at what they offer and see if it takes advantage of this secular shift and isn’t just using the latest jargon to inflate its market capitalization.