The “cloud” is really not a new concept in the lower rungs of software development. For the most part, enterprise architecture has been pushing everything back to a server for many years, but in the consumer space, the cloud is indeed a bright and shiny new toy.
Several years ago, I embarked on the journey to get all of my data stored onto someone else’s server instead of having said data always on my laptop or on a backup drive. In the event of a catastrophe, I wanted to make sure everything was safe and sound just in case my laptop were to crash or get stolen. I enlisted the services of Mint, TurboTax, Google Docs, DropBox, etc., all are wonderful cloud-based services.
So what exactly does “cloud” mean? Simply, it is storing your data somewhere else via the internet. Let’s not get into Platform as a Service, Big Data, Cloud server distribution or all that other nomenclature other than to say that there are degrees by which you “buy into” the cloud. How does it benefit you as the consumer? It mostly means that your data is persisted somewhere you can always get back to it from any device whether it is mobile device, laptop computer or desktop PC. The major advantages are convenience and piece of mind that your data is safe. With this comes a trade off. Your data is no longer really your own. It is less secure by virtue of just being transmitted back and forth and available to millions of people who might be able to get at it in a worse case scenario.
From a mobile perspective, the cloud strategy makes perfect sense. In the purist sense a cloud strategy might involve a simple web-based user interface that supports all browsers on all platforms, but with the current “app craze”, it makes more sense to go beyond this and also provide native apps running directly on mobile devices to interact with these cloud services. The reasons to have a native mobile app go far beyond having and app just for the sake of having one. A native app gets you coverage in an app store whether it is the Apple or Chrome app store, so a side-effect is market presence. A native app gives a far richer user experience than any web-based app can offer. A native app means that you have the ability to function in an offline mode and still give the user a way to accomplish their tasks and sync up with the cloud later.
Creating a native app and interacting with the cloud is no different than interacting with the cloud via your web interface, or for that matter, a native desktop application that accesses your data via the same cloud services. Think about your user interfaces as you would a mask. You have a different mask every Halloween, but your face is still the same and really that is the important thing. After all, buying a new mask is far cheaper than paying a plastic surgeon for a new face. In terms of cloud services, most businesses already have some infrastructure for supporting multiple interfaces back to the same services anyway, it is just a matter of exposing those as something that native apps can consume.
From the perspective of business, the cloud takes on a whole new meaning as opposed to how a consumer would see it. Corporations are switching to cloud-based services to offload their once internal applications to a software-as-a-service provider. Here are some good examples of how businesses have taken to the cloud, Github for source code control, Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office, Google Business Services instead of having a traditional “in-house” mail server like Microsoft Exchange and Sugar or Bullhorn for CRM Solutions. By utilizing these cloud services, companies that could not afford an IT presence, now have the tools much larger companies have enjoyed for years on a tighter budget. Also, if we go back to those degrees of cloudiness I mentioned, you see that even maintenance costs that were once incurred to you directly would be an inherent benefit if you chose a Platform as a Service (PAAS) in the cloud. PaaS allows you to forget worrying about scaling servers, managing backups, handling server security, blah, blah blah… the things that do not deal with your core application logic.
Now that more businesses have progressed into the cloud, not only have they reduced their costs, but they have also instantly enabled a mobile presence in their business. Businesses that use Google Docs, example or Google Business now have automatic access via several great mobile applications. Employees with these companies now can enjoy greater flexibility on where and when they can work using their mobile devices and the cloud enables that data to be available no matter what interface they sit down in front of or what internet connection they use. With more and more companies offering remote work, telecommuting and co-working opportunities to remain competitive, it has given validity to the cloud as a viable mechanism for enabling businesses to function.
Cloud-based service adoption has flourished among newer more agile companies and on the consumer front. The larger corporate machines are just starting to see the value and determining how they can make a go of it. While all this is going on cloud-based service companies and mobile tech leaders are reaping the rewards of such a fantastic approach to how we do business in this new age.