IBM and Google have both announced high-flying research projects in cloud computing -- creating virtual supercomputers to power distributed applications that customers like you can access over the Web. This idea isn't new, but it appears to be different this time. Today's blend of high-speed networks and fast servers have already led to the rise of the Web app, and end users are getting accustomed to running apps over the Internet.
Still, ordinary businesses will have to wait a while if they want access to these computing clouds, because IBM is grooming its services for the larges business, research, and government usage models and Google is currently only working with universities on its cloud. Eventually, though, cloud computing will trickle into the mainstream. Here's what it could do for you.
Distributed computing means you never have to say you're stranded. Because cloud computing makes large server clusters available over the Net, you'll eventually be able to access intensely powerful customer service and commerce apps from the road, without compromising security. Your sales reps will be able to perform high-level business analysis from their cars, rather than waiting for leads from the home office. This will make smaller businesses more agile than ever before.
For the largest companies, sifting through the endless stream of online activity for meaningful user trends is an expensive - but rewarding - challenge that gives them an edge in understanding the markets. In the coming year, cloud computing will likely make it easier for them. And once computing clouds fall into the hands of regular folks, we'll all have that power.
Large businesses are rapidly awakening to the power of virtualisation, cutting hardware costs while making a more diverse application set available to their users. Cloud computing will make it easy for the very smallest companies to leverage virtualisation just like the big kids.
Last year, every business decided it was hip to jump into MySpace. But, despite what a few companies' PR firms have claimed, most of the hipsters they went there to court were unimpressed by the effort, largely because the static tools of the social network made for a bland customer experience. Cloud computing will enable more sophisticated social apps, giving businesses the tools to attract customers in dynamic, entertaining ways.
Second Life, while interesting, has done even less for the businesses that have hopped into it than MySpace has. But once cloud clusters go mainstream, they'll enable more immersive VR environments and, just maybe, draw more credible numbers of users into the virtual world. That could finally activate some real commerce in virtual places like Second Life.