John McCarthy, the computer scientist who coined the term artificial intelligence, once said that computation would some day function as a public utility. He died in October 2011 at the age of 84, but his vision is alive and well. Computing power is no longer locked up in big boxes, and computing itself is perceived differently from even a decade ago.
The most radical change, perhaps, is social networking. A simple username and password let people know what their friends are doing and thinking. This is possible because a huge amount of shared data is stored in servers around the world, and people can access as much of it as they want, whenever and wherever they want it. This is an example of cloud computing , which lets users draw on computing infrastructure based on their requirement.
Some years ago, companies were buying and hoarding storage space and software based on demand projections. In today's economic environment, they are spending more cautiously. Still, global cloud computing traffic is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 66 per cent.
Small and midsized companies are adopting cloud services much faster than big ones
The Indian market is expected to grow
at a compound annual rate of 33 per cent and be worth $16 billion by 2020. The estimates are bullish because companies are discovering the cloud. Take, for example, the Adhunik Group, an infrastructure company whose employees are often out on a project site or in mines. To keep everyone connected, it uses Microsoft's Office 365, a cloud-based solution. Employee connectivity has risen 20 per cent. "Small businesses gain enormously from the cloud," says Moorthy Uppaluri, General Manager, Developer and Platform Evangelism, Microsoft India. He explains that besides reducing capital expenditure, cloud computing improves business value by increasing connectivity and mobility.
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Small and mid-sized companies are increasingly 'borrowing' storage space, and paying based on usage. Large companies prefer virtualisation, or a framework created by running different operating systems and software on the same server. Virtualisation has increased average system utilisation from between 30 and 35 per cent to as much as 65 per cent.
When the software is hosted by a third party cloud services provider, but the server and storage are owned by the company, it is a 'private cloud'. The 'public cloud' includes services such as Facebook or Google Docs, which can be used by any individual or company. Many small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, prefer public cloud solutions, for which they pay based on usage. "They prefer a fully automated selfservice environment," says Rajesh Awasthi, Director, Telecom and Cloud Service Provider at NetApp India.
Globally, SMEs are adopting cloud services much faster than large enterprises, he adds. "Managing personal computing resources is a massive cash drain," says Jagdish Mahapatra, Senior Vice President for Information Technology Services at Cisco.
Among the companies that use Cisco's 'virtual desktop interface' is technology solutions provider KPIT Cummins. This is essentially a monitor hooked up to a server, where most of the processing takes place at the server stage. KPIT Cummins has 1,200 users on this platform. Mahapatra says companies typically outsource services and solutions to cloud service providers such as Cisco.
With information technology becoming more centralised, and with growing demand for computing on the go, devices look set to become sleeker, with less capacity. Companies such as Microsoft offer almost all solutions in both formats - on-demand and proprietary. In a few years, perhaps all services will be affordable and available on demand.