Today, nothing could be further from the truth. Microsoft (SkyDrive), Apple (iCloud), Google (Google Drive), Dropbox, Box, and what seems like tens if not hundreds of other players, have jumped into cloud storage in various ways, making it one of the most talked about topics in technology.
Where did all this excitement come from? The answer is complex, but at its heart are two distinct, but related trends.
The first trend is technological. Advances in mobile devices have simply changed what’s possible. Today half of all devices sold a year will be non-Windows PCs. Apple alone has sold more than 172 million iPhones and iPads in the last year. More computing power and connectivity is in more hands, and in more ways, than ever before.
The devices we’re using to get work done are changing dramatically, and with them, our business software and systems are also evolving rapidly. These mobile advancements are ushering in the “post PC era" - one of the most profound transitions of the past two decades. Today, people expect to access their information from any device and become more frustrated and less productive if all of their data is sequestered on different devices or locked down to specific systems.
This demand for access, control and simplicity creates a huge opportunity in the consumer arena to solve a problem for billions of people. Especially for Apple, Google and Microsoft - who all offer mobile devices, operating systems, notebooks, media services, and browsers - it has become a battle of ecosystems, with the ability to offer cloud storage central to delivering an end-to end experience across devices.€‹
Yet, in the business world, companies need more than just storage of the bits, they also need elements like platform, collaboration, openness, and security - areas that can help them continually and sustainably innovate. Unlike the consumer landscape, the enterprise cloud is about way more than just storage. €‹It's about collaboration and the real potential for unlocking the competitive and productivity advantages the cloud brings when employees are given the tools they need to collaborate, share and innovate across multiple platforms and from any location.
The second important trend is consumer driven. Few people in technology haven’t heard about the “consumerisation of IT.” But the tangible affect of workers bringing consumer devices into the workplace has never been greater. For example, a recent Cisco study found that “the average number of connected devices per knowledge worker is expected to reach 3.3 by 2014, up from an average of 2.8 in 2012.” That is a lot of devices.
More importantly, along with these devices, consumers are also bringing different expectations for technology to work with them. The reason mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, or social media like Facebook and Twitter, or even Web experiences like Google, are so wildly popular is that they are radically simple and intuitive.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but simplicity and usability have not really been the strong suit of traditional business software and systems. It’s into this vacuum (where there is a lack of simple post-PC solutions) that more and more workers are bypassing IT with technology aligned with their expectations and needs.
Consumer Cloud vs Enterprise Cloud
On the one hand, this reality is why cloud storage is so exciting for consumers. The cloud is a transformational technology that breaks down silos by giving people seamless access to their content. And the insane pace of adoption for post-PC devices by consumers makes the consumer cloud an attractive market.
On the other hand, for IT, these same trends have created a significant tension between securely managing their businesses’ most valuable data and the opportunity to help their colleagues be productive, no matter where they are or what device best fits their work.
A recent Gartner study shows that IT organisations understand this tension and are prioritising in response. In a survey of CIOs, three of the top four 2012 priorities were mobile technologies, cloud computing and collaboration (Gartner, Amplifying the Enterprise: The 2012 CIO Agenda, January 1, 2012).
Of course, there’s a big difference between prioritising challenges and effectively responding to them. The popular consumer cloud storage products appeal to users, but they fall well short of the standards of security and €‹manageability that IT needs. (Quite frankly, this strikes most IT teams as the wrong kind of exciting!).
A New Kind of IT Infrastructure
What does all this mean for IT? €‹Quite simply, IT is at a crossroads.
€‹In talking with CIOs around the world (including those at Proctor & Gamble, O2 Media, and Foster & Partners, just to name a few) we’ve come to deeply understand their concerns. They've all seen similar patterns and are concluding that now is the time to create a new kind of IT infrastructure that’s built for this post-PC world.
Many companies are at different stages of this transformation, but there is an emerging consensus that IT can be used to help them chart their own course. We think of it as the new checklist for IT as they build out their next generation infrastructure:
- Cloud: 100% cloud-based for low cost and easy maintenance
- Mobile: Works on any mobile device
- Simple: Fully flexible, but compliant with IT policies
- Secure: Protected, trusted, scalable, always available
Whitney Tidmarsh Bouck is enterprise general manager for Box. The company recently announced the opening of its European headquarters in London, along with the intention to hire 100 people in the region by the end of 2013. Read her interview with Techworld here.