Consumers in the Cloud

BARCELONA — Feb. 18, 2011 — As part of the Mobile Computing track at Mobile World Congress, Consumers in the Cloud was a standing-room-only session, tackling the issues surrounding cloud computing for mass market mobile services. As a panelist I was excited to represent Microsoft’s views on the cloud phenomenon and hear my industry colleagues’ perspectives on the impact of cloud for consumers and our industry ecosystem.

We explored areas such as user trust, network capacity and business models, and were joined by David Bernstein, special chief technical officer and vice president, Software, North America R&D, Huawei; Fabrizio Capobianco, chairman and president, Funambol; Lars Reichelt, CEO, Cell C; and Fernando Núñez Mendoza, founder and CEO, fonYou. The session was moderated by Windsor Holden, principal analyst, Juniper Research.

There is a shared belief that the cloud is already enabling so many new connected scenarios, be it 500 million users on Facebook, 1,000 tweets per second or 2 billion videos watched on YouTube every day. Consumers are embracing these services wholeheartedly and on an unprecedented scale. Although there may be a perceived notion that users fear sharing their personal data publicly, the stats tell us that consumers simply don’t mistrust public cloud services enough to stop using them — the numbers just keep rising. Of course, security and the appropriate use of data should always be a consideration, and Capobianco raised his concerns about storing high volumes of personal information in the cloud. Certainly in a business context, the protection of sensitive data becomes critical, which is where private clouds come in — but that’s a separate conversation for another time.

One aspect of the discussion was Bernstein’s presentation on “intercloud” as a way to standardize the cloud and allow interoperability across the different clouds. Looking at this from a user experience perspective, data from disparate clouds can already be presented in an integrated manner through the use of apps while remaining transparent to the consumer. One example is the People Hub in Windows Phone 7, which gives the consumer a view of people and friends by taking content from multiple external clouds, including Windows Live, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Reichelt provided the operator perspective on network capacity issues related to the cloud, and agreed that it’s about “being prepared for the data onslaught.” The app explosion has created some tension on the infrastructure side, but the trend is only going to continue, so strategies to manage — and monetize — this data crunch are key. Reichelt also commented on the “breath of fresh air” that smartphone platforms have brought to the industry. He welcomes the creativity unleashed through applications as a way of re-energizing the engineering-driven cultures within many operators and helping them provide the best possible networks that support what people want from the cloud: seamless connectivity to the people, places and things they care about.

The cloud clearly has many implications for how people interact with the brands and experiences they love, and increasingly these experiences are happening on mobile devices. Like many people, I am using my smartphone to access my work and personal e-mails from multiple clouds, take pictures and automatically sync to the cloud, work on my Microsoft Office documents, search and browse the Internet, buy stuff, interact with friends instantly, watch movies from the cloud, access hundreds of apps, play games, use my favorite phone app to measure distance to the pin when playing golf, monitor what my dog is doing at home, and oh, make phone calls. The scenarios will just get better and more integrated over time.

We are past the mobile cloud transition stage. Most of what we do with our smartphones already includes accessing the clouds — and the clouds have already come down to earth. The majority of consumers do not even need to know or care which cloud they are using as long as they are getting what they want.

By Richard Ang, CTO, Worldwide Communications Sector at Microsoft

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