On Monday, June 6th, Apple will unveil its iCloud strategy at its Worldwide Developers' Conference. I've been thinking a lot about the role of "the cloud" in our lives. By that, I mean the role that all digital services, mobile apps, software as a service, and digital media play in our lives. In fact, this week, I offer the first in a new series of articles designed to stimulate our combined thinking about how to design customer-friendly cloud offerings, digital services, and vibrant ecosystems. (See Living and Working in “the Cloud”.)
Step 1: We're Already Addicted to Digital Services in the Cloud
The first step is to realize that we're already pretty addicted to "the cloud," by which I mean digital services (information or entertainment + functionality) that are hosted somewhere in the ether (in some set of data centers, on virtual computers, running on special-purpose or commodity hardware) that are "always on" and almost always available via the Internet (or mobile communications, or satellite communications).
Step 2: Understand the Risks of Relying on Digital Services
There are pros and cons to relying on services that are hosted in the cloud. On the negative side: They can be hacked. They can stop working. They capture everything you do. They can be spied upon or shut down. On the positive side: They can back up and store everything—your music collection, any movie you've ever wanted to see, your family photos, your address book, as well as most of the applications and information your company uses in its business.
Step 3: Be Clear about What We Want from a Cloud Service
As we join in the speculation and analysis of Apple's imminent iCloud offering, what the business model is, how it compares to similar offerings from Amazon, Google, and Facebook (and also-ran Microsoft), let's first step back and think about what would constitute a cloud offering that would provide a great customer experience, great value, and great peace of mind. I believe that Apple is focusing first and foremost on the consumer experience, rather than on cloud computing for the enterprise. However, as we've seen from the rapid adoption of iPads by corporate execs, Apple's iCloud will socialize a new narrative about cloud computing. Once corporate execs entrust their personal lives to the cloud, they will be more accepting of the role of cloud computing for the enterprise—first for things that "don't matter," next for back up and to enable cost-effective global reach, and finally, for mission-critical apps that can only be run cost-effectively as distributed digital services.
Step 4: Acknowledge the Need to Optimize for the Common Good
The human race has proven to be a greedy, warring species. We tend to cooperate well only in times of crisis or celebration. Yet cloud computing and digital services consume scarce resources: Internet bandwidth, mobile spectrum, power generation, rare minerals, water (to cool all those computers), and, of course, lots of smart "good" people who need to stay one step ahead of the smart "bad" people who want to wreak havoc. We should be careful to promote business models and behaviors that will result in a fair allocation of these scarce resources and to empowerment of those who currently sit at the bottom of the pyramid and on the minus side of the digital divide.