Daresbury: Microsoft on Cloud Computing

Most Daresbury breakfast meetings end with a presentation by a guest speaker. Last Friday, the speakers were Lee Stott and Miles Deegan of Microsoft who spoke about "Cloud Computing as an Enabler for SME Innovation".

On its website, Microsoft describes cloud computing quite helpfully as "simply subscribing to various IT services, such as email, customer relationship management or web conferencing, which are provided by a third party." It adds: "You pay a monthly charge depending on how many PCs you have." Microsoft offers the following services in this way:
Developers also have a cloud platform for software development known as Windows Azure which the speakers discussed in some detail. They also mentioned Microsoft's BizSpark project which offers the company's software as a service products to start-ups free of charge and puts them in touch with angels, mentors, professional service providers, venture capitalists and other accredited partners for up to 3 years. I asked the speakers how Microsoft expected to make any money from such generosity. I was assured quite disarmingly that Microsoft didn't. The service was offered by Microsoft out of the goodness of its hearts to get Britain moving again. A member of the audience interjected that Microsoft must hope that any start-up that survived those 3 years would have become accustomed to Microsoft products and would be inclined to use them.

Any business in the the North West that may be tempted to join the BizSpark project should know that Daresbury Science & Innovation Campus is a partner in BizSpark as well as in several other strategic partnerships including IBM Global Entrepreneurs, Ideas (a collaboration with the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester), Innovation XChange and TrusTech (the local NHS hub).

Of course, Microsoft is by no means the pioneer of cloud computing. This very blog is written on a cloud application as is the IP North West website. Google has been offering an office suite that comprises a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing applications known as Google docs absolutely free for years. When combined with Gmail, sites and of course this blogging page it provides all the functionality most users need. Amazon has also offered a cloud service for developers. Apple has recently announced its i-cloud services.

Of course, one limiting factor for all these services will be the speed of the broadband connection in the UK. According to the OECD we are already lagging behind our neighbours Germany and France in the number of broadband subscribers and we are well behind Korea and Japan in the available connection speeds. We shall have to do better in both respects if we are to take advantage of all the promised cloud based technologies.

29 Jun 2011 I have now uploaded Lee and Miles's slides.


Pollik said…
The ultimate intention of the cloud, apart from being a nice little earner for providers, seems to be that one can save money by not having to keep up to date with applications on your PC. And there are some advantages, such as cross platform collaboration or collaboration between colleagues who are separated by distance.

But to use it as one's sole office suite might be a mistake. Bandwidth is, as you say, one issue. In my case, as someone who travels widely, I am am regularly out of reach of an internet connection, or even a phone signal. This is true even in developed countries. In other countries, have seen the internet brought down by governments as a defensive measure against insurgents. Lack of the internet would effectively mean that I would be unable to work.

Another dimension is that it makes one beholden to the whims of a particular provider. Does one really want to place one's sensitive data in the tender mercy of a third party. Given the record of some corporations on net security, I would suggest not.

If the decision were left to the bean counters, the Cloud has obvious attractions. Which means it will probably be widely taken up.