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Software Born in the Cloud Different Than Software Moved to the Cloud

Posted Dec 16 2010 12:00am

I have posted a number of notes about cloud computing but have not paid particular attention to differences between applications born in the cloud as opposed to those that are moved to the cloud. Luckily, the Forbes blog Quicker, Better, Tech has reprinted a column on this topic by Aaron Levie who is the co-founder and CEO of Box.net. Below is an excerpt from his musings (see: The Open Social Enterprise ). Read the whole thing if you have time. It's worth the effort.

When Steve Ballmer declared that Microsoft was “betting the company” on cloud computing earlier this year, he cautioned that “the goal can’t be to throw out all the world’s software and start again.” Microsoft and the other enterprise technology behemoths may be embracing the cloud, but in many cases they’re doing so by offering watered down, hosted versions of their legacy solutions – solutions that were designed years ago for enterprises that achieved security through information lock-down and rigid workflows. There’s a fundamental difference between software moved to the cloud and software born in the cloud. The emerging solutions in this latter group are exciting not because they’re delivered in a modern way, but because they fundamentally rethink the purpose and spirit of the desktop-centric software that came before them. They’re more open. They’re more social. They can scale to meet the needs of small businesses and large enterprises alike. And with these new platforms, we’re seeing the wholesale trade of control – or rather, the illusion of control – for heightened visibility and productivity in a fundamentally more open organization....The rise of social networking and media consumption online have demonstrated to today’s knowledge workers that there’s no technical reason why sharing has to be so difficult.  The web makes sharing and collaborating easier than ever before – we know this from our usage of consumer cloud services, like YouTube, and Flickr. But if we adopt user-friendly, web-based business applications that make it too easy for employees to share information, doesn’t that pose a security threat? The reality of business today is that workers need to collaborate beyond the firewall, and if enterprise software makes collaboration too difficult, users will simply go around the system and use ad hoc applications over which the IT department has no control. With cloud-based business services like Google Apps, Box and Jive, it’s generally true that employees have more freedom, but they’re also far more likely to use a platform that’s flexible, intuitive, and integrated with other business applications, meaning they’ll stay within IT’s oversight.

I see a parallel in this discussion between the culture of cloud computing and opposition to sharing medical electronic records with patients. HIPAA has become the best friend of many hospital CIOs. It allows them to block solutions such as PHRs that enable the sharing of information (see: Some Hospitals Hold Hostage the Medical Records of Their Patients ). I now perform most of my work (and thinking) while in the cloud. The cloud and social media have become synonymous in my mind. You can't understand one without the other. My cloud work involves, in part, writing this blog. I share my ideas with hundreds of readers each day. With my Google Apps, I can share a document with anyone in the world by merely supplying their email. I then can choose whether they can edit a document or only read it. If I allow them to edit it, we can work on the same document simultaneously. With a simple setting, I am able to automatically copy the first 140 characters of each my blog notes to Twitter. Again, painless sharing of ideas. It's so natural in the cloud that you don't need think about it. Compare this with the desk-top computing model where you need to plan ahead about how to share documents with others, even in the office next door.

Aaron Levie has it right. Microsoft will laboriously try to move its software to the cloud but will probably never get it right because the company doesn't really understand the culture of cloud computing but is reluctantly adopting it for competitive reasons (see: Google, Microsoft Compete for GSA "Cloud Mail" Business ; More Information about Google's Chrome OS ; The Decline of Microsoft: The Clues Seem to Be Obvious ). in this way, Microsoft is merely reflecting the ideas of its corporate clients who don't really "get" the cloud and are searching for reasons to avoid moving information to it.

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