Free data storage will drive the future of the mobile internet

25 Feb 2010

John Herlihy is vice-president, Global Ad Operations, Google. He says the nature of how we store, manage and share electronic data has changed radically, and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

We hear much talk of cloud computing, and free storage of data. Do you see it as a game changer in coming years?

The whole area of cloud-based computing and free storage is going to continue to be a key trend. Think about it: 10 years ago, if you went to an event somewhere you got a free this or free that; these days you get free storage. Interestingly, if you buy a USB key for €50 today, it will have the same amount of storage that was probably needed to run the mainframe in the Central Bank in the Sixties.

What is happening is there is this whole plethora of electronic digital information that has been created, and today online companies can, in effect, store it for free. I think we will look back in 10 to 15 years’ time and realise we have completely underestimated the impact of this free storage, and Moore’s Law applies to that whole area, in terms of continually driving costs down.

You told us recently that the mobile internet is the next big wave in computing, what you called the ‘fifth big wave’.

Yes it is all connected. It’s interesting if you think that there has been no real big breakthrough in software technology in recent years – it’s all web-enabled. That combined with the move to open source, where no one person has influence over any one idea. I think open source plus storage plus the cloud is what is going to super-charge mobile. Desktops could be pretty irrelevant in three or four years’ time.

Already, there are some early smart phones out there, but these are still at the early stages. Most of them haven’t really figured out how to integrate voice, where the device reacts to the question you input, and then you have a GPS superimposed that can figure out exactly where you are. From a consumer point of view, it will fundamentally change demand and demand patterns. But I think the cloud will be hugely significant when it comes to this whole area of mobile internet.

Is there any resistance from traditional companies as to storing data in the cloud? Is there a trust issue there?

I think there is a trust issue without a doubt, but then there was an issue 30 years ago about ATMs – you used to go to the bank for your money, today you go electronically to get your money without thinking about it.

What will happen is companies that, say, put 50pc of their IT budget on systems and servers, if that goes down towards storing it the cloud, then they’ll spend a little bit more budget on security. It will be about redistributing the costs differently.

For people of my generation, the pen was the instrument of learning in school. Then, think of our kids. Five years ago it was the PC for them. Today it’s the Wii, the Nintendo DS, the Playstation 3 and, of course, mobile phones. That is creating a different form of thinking and what we need to do is understand how is it that we manage data, how do we manage access to data and how we provide safety around that.

By Ann O’Dea

Photo: John Herlihy, vice-president, Global Ad Operations, Google

John Herlihy will be speaking at the Digital Landscapes conference, which takes place on Wednesday, 3 March 2010, from 7.40am to 12.30pm at O’Reilly Hall, Belfield, UCD. For more information, or to book, visit UCD’s Growing Ireland website or phone 01 7168050.


Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human