The sky’s the limit if this country becomes a force in the tech world’s biggest revolution yet.
Last week, as I took my seat among 80 software developers at the Mansion House, it reinforced my opinion that the internet is doing away with traditional routes to market.
The developers attending the Samsung Developer Day were being invited to develop apps for an immediate marketplace of more than two million phones worldwide. It was like an exporter’s beachhead had just opened up in Dublin City.
Internet cloud rolls in
This is about the cloud, the internet cloud, and it’s unfolding before our very eyes. Already, more than 400 established Irish software companies are developing software on Microsoft’s Azure platform, it’s ‘Windows for the Cloud’, which will be hosted at the $500m data centre Microsoft opened in Dublin last autumn.
Dublin, with its 25-plus data centres and who’s who list of global internet companies, is one of the cornerstones of the internet economy. Cork too, with enablers like VMWare and internet-gaming companies such as Big Fish and Activision Blizzard, is an emerging force. Most of the business processes for Apple’s online empire, for example, are managed in Cork City.
However, a whitepaper published by the Irish Internet Association (IIA) last week revealed that few Irish businesses or public bodies see the cloud-computing opportunity as a way of saving money and being more productive.
The barriers, the IIA report says, to every business in Ireland being able to access the cloud opportunity are obvious: lack of understanding and a lack of quality, ubiquitous broadband. Failure to get this right could mean Irish firms, in sore need of a revival, may miss out on productivity opportunities.
The IIA document also points out that 43pc of Irish IT managers and some 85pc of finance managers are unclear of what cloud computing actually is.
Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Galway operation facility, which began life 40 years ago as part of Digital Equipment Corporation, is spearheading a cloud-based recall service that traces and removes harmful food products from the global supply chain in partnership with GS1.
“The development of IT has followed a significant evolutionary pathway,” explains Dr Chris Coughlan, who heads up HP’s Galway operation. “It has evolved from mainframe computers to mini-computers to PCs to programming languages and techniques, and from bureau services to networking to internet to worldwide web and, more recently, to the social networking of Web 2.0.
“The analogy is that the cloud is ‘the big mainframe in the sky’, where the mainframe has been replaced by large data centres, which can be located anywhere in the world, while the dumb terminal has been replaced by a multiplicity of access devices such as laptops, netbooks, PDAs and even mobile phones,” says Coughlan.
But what’s holding Irish businesses back? Cloud computing’s promise can be seen in the example of Dublin security software company Vordel, which is working with Dell to manufacture cloud-security products and is also on the verge of an alliance with Amazon.com to create cloud- security services for businesses.
Vordel has, in the past year, added 32 customers to its growing enterprise client base, including finance firms such as EBS, Allianz and BNP Paribas; government customers such as the US Federal Government and the EU Council; and telecoms providers such as Telefónica and Telecom Italia.
Vordel emerged as an idea amongst a group of Eircom.net workers in the Nineties. Mark O’Neill, one of the original founders, is chief technical officer. He says that, for 51pc of CIOs, security is the biggest challenge when it comes to cloud adoption.
“People are worried about their data intermingling with other people’s data and they are particularly concerned that many cloud providers won’t provide a service level agreement (SLA).”
Gerry Power of cloud computing firm Sysco, and chair of the IIA Cloud Computing Working Group, says the key is taking the confusion out of what cloud computing actually means.
“Ultimately, what we’re talking about is the commoditisation of IT. For SMEs, deploying cloud computing is a compelling argument because they don’t have the legacy of the large enterprise IT infrastructure large companies have. The cloud is a massive engine SMEs can tap into. At present, SMEs are wondering how secure their data or email is. The cloud will be far superior to what they have.”
Number of firms in the Microsoft BizSpark programme
To date, in excess of 400 companies have joined the Microsoft BizSpark programme, which brings them into a development ecosystem of 30,000 firms worldwide and strategically positions them to capitalise on Microsoft’s Azure platform.
Conor O’Riordan is CEO of TradeFacilitate, a firm dedicated to reducing the costs associated with dated and inefficient paper-based international trade transactions and increasing the trade competitiveness of buyers and sellers globally. O’Riordan says membership of BizSpark provides a calling card and a level of assurance when trading in regions like Africa.
The programme, he says, has equipped TradeFacilitate, which works with the EU and the UN, to be knowledgeable enough to win business with major governments.
“If we hadn’t been in BizSpark, we couldn’t have met the technical deadlines set by the EU. It’s been a huge learning curve.”
Ian Lucey of Lucey Technology says BizSpark helped his secure-payments company to accelerate growth.
“We’ve estimated that being part of the programme has saved us €292,000 over three years. We’ve used the tools to create development packs and the licensing to go into production. We would have had to raise another €200,000 to put the infrastructure in place.”
According to Microsoft Ireland’s managing director, Paul Rellis, selling software via the internet cloud is an unparallelled opportunity for Irish software companies because geography no longer matters.
“The one thing that’s coming out, and the Innovation Taskforce didn’t grasp this, is the whole cloud computing opportunity. The power of the internet is really all about giving the consumer IT services on demand, when you want and whatever device you want. As a country, we’re not really set up to take advantage of that yet.”
But to fully tap into the cloud opportunity, Ireland needs to first resolve its broadband problems.
As Rellis says: “We definitely need to put the broadband discussion back up at the top of the list as a country. It’s a big investment decision – there’s so much business there for telcos, mobile providers and software companies and for the public sector to gain from.”
By John Kennedy
Photo: The cloud economy is a blue-sky opportunity for Ireland’s multinational and indigenous software industries, say, from left, Microsoft Ireland’sPaul Rellis and Vordel’s Mark O’Neill (inset) and (walking) Cliff Reeves, global head of Emerging Business, Microsoft; InishTech’s Aidan Gallagher;Conor O’Riordan of TradeFacilitate and Ian Lucey of Lucey Technology