Bursting the cloud – a no-nonsense approach to cloud computing

16 Jun 2011

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The consumerisation of IT is an unstoppable trend, says Citrix Ireland and UK VP James Stevenson, driven by cloud, gadgets and virtualisation.

You have to wonder at the technology industry sometimes. For something as unstoppable and inevitable as cloud computing, the industry itself has probably done more to slow its adoption than speed it up.

Its tendency to use vague terms like ‘cloud’ in the first place – cloud computing is just internet computing by another name – does more to confuse businesses already shaken and made nervous by the increasing spate of data breaches at Sony, the IMF and Citibank.

Despite this, cloud or internet computing is inescapable because it simply makes sense. You could argue that Steve Jobs of Apple is one of those rare souls in the industry who waits until he has something to show in the first place. The CEO communicated how simple the cloud should be recently when he showed off Apple’s iOS 5 and iCloud technologies.

James Stevenson, Citrix Ireland and UK vice-president, is another one of those individuals who takes a no-nonsense, jargon-free approach to pointing out the obvious when it comes to the cloud.

In the same way as Jobs made the cloud seem easy and versatile via Apple’s iCloud at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference, I had a similar epiphany when I was shown how easy it was to access a corporate Windows PC desktop over the internet via an Apple iPad using Citrix’s Receiver app. In a sense, time, distance and firewalls disappeared. The data was right there at my fingertips, but locked securely in the cloud.

“People are looking for more flexibility in the way they work, how they work and what time they work,” explains Stevenson. “It’s no good sitting in traffic jams in Dublin. Why not delay an hour and work at home and then head into the office? Make better use of your time and come in later.”

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Stevenson points out that technology change and social change are happening in tandem.

“We are seeing technology and social trends coming together at the same time. Technology is purely an enabler, the things people see are the devices themselves.

“Since we’ve seen the arrival of the iPad and the iPhone – it seems that every week there’s a new smartphone or tablet computer – this is enabling massive change in how people view their working lives,” he explains.

“This year, smartphones are tipped to outsell PCs. People see these new technologies as key enablers that allow them to work where they want to and use their time effectively. Our Citrix Receiver technology allows people to use desktops wherever they want to or need to via their tablet or smartphone."

Stevenson argues that when fourth-generation mobile technologies arrive – facilitating theoretical broadband speeds of beyond 50Mbps and up to 100Mbps over wide areas – the world of work as we know it will be changed forever.

"Even 3G, while it’s not bad but is still quite limited bandwidth wise, has shown us what’s possible. Yet we all know that Wi-Fi is much better.

"However, when we start to see the 4G speeds come onstream, the consumerisation of IT and the cloud-working trend will accelerate mainly because coverage and speed will be that much better and you will work from where you want to work."

I put it to Stevenson that with revolutions like Apple’s iCloud service and competing efforts by Amazon and Google, consumers are likely to have embraced cloud computing long before mainstream businesses have accepted it completely.

"I think we’re already there," he says. "Consumers don’t worry so much about security as businesses do. There’s a very different perspective.

"I recently started downloading an album on iTunes at Heathrow Airport. I got called to my flight and when I arrived at my hotel in Johannesburg and connected to Wi-Fi my album continued downloading. Now that to me is a cloud service in a sense, because it didn’t care where I was.

"Consumers have been using the cloud for a long time in various ways," adds Stevenson.

"Because businesses worry so much more about security, they are going to take baby steps and work out how to secure their data when everything moves to the cloud."

He says Citrix is focused on making the cloud experience both fast and safe.

"We’re trying to enable people by moving the processing to the cloud and keeping their data secure in the data centre. Users only need to move their data into the cloud for processing and back out again. Their data is never resident in the cloud. Our belief is enterprises will move slowly to the cloud relative to consumers."

Stevenson’s straight-to-the-point views on technology are refreshing and come from experience. Citrix, which employs 150 people at its East Point base in Dublin, grew up in the realm of thin-client computing and server virtualisation – complex subjects at the best of times.

A typical example of how he explains the business rationale of server virtualisation to a businessperson would run like this: "Let’s use the analogy of trucks. If I went to my financial director and said I wanted to buy a truck but we only intended to use it 15pc of the time it could be used, don’t you think I would be rejected?

"The thing with computer servers is they are only used 15pc of the time on average, which is nonsensical in this day and age. What server virtualisation does is maximise how an organisation uses these assets. Instead of using several of these machines, be clever and use one or two to do the same amount of work."

The IT world’s next major trend

Citrix is noted for its close working relationship with technology giant Microsoft, and according to Stevenson, the next major trend that will sweep the IT world is going to be desktop virtualisation.

The idea is firms should no longer have to repeatedly buy machines if workers can access their corporate desktop via the internet (or cloud) on any device they choose.

"We’re only scratching the surface in terms of desktop virtualisation," he says. "The benefit of desktop virtualisation is it gives users choice. IT directors, CIOs and IT departments no longer need to care about the devices anymore. Users will choose what they want to use and will probably use two or three devices to do their job.

"What IT managers and CIOs need to be thinking about is the security of the network and the data in particular," argues Stevenson. "Look at all the issues over the years with prominent businesspeople and civil servants losing laptops. With desktop virtualisation, you can leave your device in a taxi and not worry because the data isn’t stored on the device, which should be blank.

"The data is instead stored securely in the data centre. More and more workforces will become mobile rather than tethered to a desk and they’ll want to work from home or on the road.

"We would agree with Gartner’s estimation that in the coming years more than half of business desktops will use some form of desktop virtualisation," he adds.

Photo: Citrix Ireland and UK vice-president James Stevenson points to the major trends that are shaping the technology world today, namely: devices, cloud computing and bandwidth

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com