When Steve Jobs proclaimed that the post-PC era had arrived, most people assumed it was the mobile phone that was the cause of this transition. Yet, alongside the mobile phone, the heir apparent in the post-PC world is the cloud. Mobile is expanding the cloud, and the relationship between mobile devices and cloud computing is changing everything, from how consumers manage their information to how developers build and manage applications on the Internet.
There are a few key mobile trends that are contributing to rapid growth in cloud computing.
According to research by Pew, 35 percent of American adults today own a smartphone. That number will soon exceed 50 percent. Consumers want all of their content on all of their devices, from desktop PCs, to smartphones, to tablets and laptops. Information needs to live in the cloud so it can be easily accessed by any device.
To address the need for content ubiquity, solutions like Apple iCloud and the Amazon Cloud have been introduced to provide native cloud-based file storage for mobile devices. However, when it comes to file storage in the cloud the clear leader is Dropbox.
Dropbox is a phenomenon. A start-up that emerged from obscurity to become the de facto service people use to store and manage their files in the cloud, Dropbox has 45 million users today and is on pace to triple that number in 2012. Dropbox already pushes more than 300 million files to the cloud every day.
The interesting question is how expectations from consumers to access content from the cloud will impact how we manage business information across organizations. The ripple effect from the mobile file cloud will result in employee expectations for cloud-based content management in the enterprise as well.
It is also changing the role of the PC. Historically personal information has lived on the personal computer. Now the cloud is becoming the place where people store their information.
Split Mode Computing
In the post-PC world, the cloud is doing more than just storing files, it is also providing the backend processing for our applications.
While smartphones are becoming increasingly powerful and high-speed 4G networks like LTE Advanced are on the way, mobile devices still struggle to handle the processing required by many types of web-based applications. Split-mode computing addresses the power gap between mobile devices and applications by pushing processing into the cloud.
A great example of split mode computing is Amazon Silk, the first cloud-accelerated web browser, introduced in the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.
The Amazon Silk browser is groundbreaking in how it uses the Amazon EC2 cloud to accelerate web browsing. A typical web page on the Internet can require over 80 separate files delivered from many different domains. Traditional web browsers need to make multiple round trips to fetch all of these files and render the web page, each round trip adding time between when the page is requested and when it loads. Rather than processing all of these requests on the device, the Silk browser intelligently shifts the processing to the cloud where, with persistent connections to the Internet and nearly unlimited processing power, web pages and applications load much faster. Silk also predicts the content you will view next, so it is ready when you are.
The Silk browser is innovative, but I believe the impact of the split-mode computing paradigm the Silk browser demonstrates is farther reaching. Because of the challenges of mobile processing and the opportunity to accelerate computing in the cloud, software developers will look for new ways to split computing between devices and cloud-based systems like Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure. Pushing processing to the cloud is not a new thing, but with mobile and the rise of big data applications, processing in the cloud has new relevance: it is no longer just for PCs. In the post-PC world, the cloud will provide much of the processing that runs applications.
Faster mobile doesn’t just mean shifting processing to the cloud, it means getting content closer to devices or, in industry terms, “edge caching.” This is what content delivery networks (CDNs) are built to do.
A CDN is basically a private Internet. The CDN has its own network and points of presence that span the world. While most of our web content needs to float around the twisted byways of the public Internet before reaching us, content on a CDN zips down a private autobahn until it gets to the last mile.
Despite the fact that CDNs are faster, I have not seen CDNs adopted by many content publishers beyond managing rich media and video. Mobile is changing this as well.
All of the major CDN providers, from Akamai to Limelight, are investing in mobile acceleration. CDNs now feature mobile device detection and forwarding, as well as content adaption, to optimize content for different devices and form factors.
As mobile web performance becomes a critical issue, the bottom line is that web managers will look to CDNs to deliver mobile content, shifting web delivery from servers to cloud-based networks.
Mobile changes the game in computing. The cloud is the new playing field. Consumers will primarily use the cloud to store and manage files and media. Software developers will build new applications and services in the cloud. Publishers will move from physical servers to cloud-based networks to deliver content.
This is no small change. It’s a tsunami. For the past 30 years, software, including web-based software, has largely been designed to run on desktop PCs. Those days are gone. The cloud is the new PC. Mobile may be the innovation that is tipping the cloud, but the post-PC era is officially the cloud era. Like any revolution, this new era ushers in change beyond what anyone anticipated or willed. Many of the changes are exciting. Some are daunting, challenging the tenants of the open Internet and personal privacy.
Steve Jobs may have envisioned the post-PC era, but now we need to live in it. It would be great to hear your ideas on how mobile is driving the cloud, and what the cloud era will look like for businesses and consumers alike.
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