Sometimes I think Sabeer Bhatia is the father of cloud computing. After all, while the world was coping with the world of desktop computers and packaged software and upgrade prices, the Bangalore-born simply hoisted up Hotmail in 1996 as a free Web mail service, essentially making us share a piece of software over the Internet.
That, in simple terms, is cloud computing—the business of sharing some software from the “cloud” out there. Last week, there was a shootout in this game when I saw Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, hold forth at a Singapore conference on the subject . His company founded in 1999 is arguably the official pioneer of cloud computing because it started renting out customer relations (and later other) applications over the Internet to small firms for business use.
A day after Benioff’s forceful keynote, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was in Singapore as well and he landed from there to Delhi, where he held forth on India’s future as a cloud computing hub.
Benioff’s colleague Peter Coffee says that cloud computing must necessarily involve “multi-tenancy” (like a shared apartment block), be “pay as you go” (like rent) and be transparent (services clearly priced by features). I quite like the definition, but obviously, Salesforce is taunting Ballmer because, while Microsoft is putting its old Office software, and file sharing application SharePoint on the cloud alongside developer tools in its Azure platform, it gives old customers the comfort of having their own stacks as well.
So, it all boils down to the question: which one is better, your own house or one you rent? You can have someone tell you that your own house is secure and safe, while somebody else will say you can rent a house and live wherever you like and not dole out much cash upfront.
With cloud computing it is much the same. There are those who will tell you that the cloud takes away your data, and makes you insecure, while others will say it is great because you don’t invest in software or data centres but just rent it—with no special price for upgrades or maintenance.
I find merit in both arguments, but with software getting better and bandwidth getting easier and round-the-clock anti-virus (and cybercrime) protection critical, cloud services can reduce a great deal of headaches.
Smart customers will buy long-term plans that are rightly priced.