The PC is dead; long live the 'cloud monitor'

Will PC’s (as we once knew them) die out now that the cloud computing model of service-based software application delivery and virtualised data storage and management has taken hold?

Are we one step away from referring to computers not as computers, but as “cloud monitors”, where the only ‘Windows’ on show is a window to the software available from our chosen hosting provider?

We have (largely) already reached a point when we no longer install software off-the-shelf and out-of-the-box onto our machines, as online downloads have become the norm.

This “online download trend” although perfectly acceptable at the PC (or Mac etc.) level is further fuelled by the fact that users are estimated to have somewhere around four to five times the number of “self-installed” applications on their mobile devices (smartphones and tablets in this case) than they do on their desktop machines.

The End of Software — as we know it

Does this all play out well with Salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff who defined the mission for his company as a quest to bring about — The End of Software, as we know it?

The Force.com platform itself rests and revolves around a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application suite, although the company has used the last decade and a half to expand its reach and scope into what appears to be labelled as “social enterprise” applications.

So how will Salesforce.com bring about the end of software?

The company’s strategy allows the opening up its infrastructure so that “everyone” can use it for custom application development, “With salesforce.com’s Force.com cloud platform, you can build any business application and run it on our servers,” says the company.

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But is the software application world really “beating a path” to the Force.com platform as Benioff claims?

Anyone who has attended a JavaOne/Oracle Develop event with CEO Larry “did I tell you I won the America’s Cup” Ellison will tell you that Benioff gets a few pot shots taken at him at every keynote i.e. not “everyone” is completely sold on the whole “develop for the cloud only via Force.com” message yet… but some of the momentum may indeed be gathering.

Benioff contends that “traditional” software application development has “too many moving parts” to buy, install, configure and maintain — and that, moreover, the “entire infrastructure” requires constant maintenance to keep it working smoothly.

These anti-Agility messages will clearly not win fans with the open source community who may indeed take umbrage at Salesforce.com’s dismissal of other systems as a, “Welter of unintegrated, homegrown systems on spreadsheets, personal databases, or other unsupported platforms.”

But will developers start to view cloud platforms such as Force.com as a new route to custom (they’re American – they mean “bespoke”) application development on the cloud?

There is certainly appeal for being able to get all your business logic with workflow rules plus approval processes from one central hub. One might even argue that robustness for both availability and security could be improved via this route.

Access to Force.com is through a web browser so development and deployment both take place in the cloud. “The platform itself provides everything you need for robust enterprise application development through a combination of clicks, components, and code,” says the company.

So where do we go from here?

Changes are afoot, but don’t throw away your PC or Apple Mac just yet please.

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This article seems a little bit reactionary to me. It comes across something like..."here's this great idea, now what is it going to become?" Cloud monitors and the cloud precept could be applied to, say, a shipping department, or, for example, at individual libraries of a library system, where there isn't really a need for PCs everywhere. However, for the most part, the use of PCs is going to remain as it is today in the corporate sector, I believe. This is because the individual PC is so much of a safeguard to corporations from the security angle. With the use of traditional PC networks, there isn't as much data passing back and forth over long distances where it can be compromised or corrupted. There is a serious risk of large amounts of data being intercepted with the cloud methodology. Also, this would be expensive and complicated to implement. There just isn't anything wrong with the system as it is. Yes, cloud computing could be applied in certain circumstances, so the idea shouldn't be dismissed, but true security is hardware and hard-wired. Any cloud system that contained sensitive data would be at risk...
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Thanks for your reply Charles -- we're simply not meaning to be any more reactionary than usual. This piece simply seeks to reflect the weight of the so-called "paradigm change" that the vendors in this space appear to be collectively pushing us towards. I for one am migrating to as many virtualised services as possible even for my own use so that I can move in between desktop to tablet to smartphone etc. regardless of location -- if that sounds like a marketing line then that is because even "user" services such as iCloud really do work pretty well so far. Like I said though, don't throw away your PC just yet. Adrian http://twitter.com/Abridgwater
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Thanks Adrian. I think cloud computing is an interesting development. Mostly I'm concerned over security issues. Things are changing fast, so this technology, which is reaching people on their tablets and even desktops, looks good (as does the latest always) so I understand the interest in exploring the possibilities. However, I believe I would like it best if products associated with cloud technology were considered a "difficult sale" in the short term at least. Perhaps a good comparison would be to consider cloud computing as the newest fashion. In the fashion world, that's what's best...the newest. However, in the corporate sector, new technologies must be viewed with a skeptical eye, primarily to avoid security breakdowns. It's not safe to implement in a company something just because it's new. OK, yes test it in the mailroom or whatever. Just not wholesale jump over to an untested system. Corporations are rigid bodies by nature and for good reason. Wouldn't say it's a strength or a weakness of free market economic models (capitalism), but I don't think Wall Street is going to be replaced by any other type of economic methodology. In that light, I would say it's not likely cloud computing will become big in the corporate sector. The cloud is interesting to say the least, and there will be a place for it. Just hope it doesn't become an expensive lesson on our economy (and those around the world) in these already bleak times... Thanks again
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Would it not be safe to say that the cloud is still the realm of the 'big business'? I know of very few small businesses who are picking up the cloud simply because it requires change and right now change is something they don't need. In addition, whilst there is much talk of the cloud, we still see virtually every organization rushing to develop applications for almost all devices available. These applications may well be accessing cloud data, but the applications themselves are very much device local, so exactly how Mr Salesforce sees his vision coming true anytime soon I do not know. There are a number of cloud platforms that could provide what Mr Salesforce is offering, I suggest that Microsoft Azure, Amazons EC2/EC3 and now even Google have thrown their hat into the ring. I am not convinced that any of these services are likely to make the leap from large businesses anytime soon, certainly not here in the UK as there are issues with broadband speed that involved parties are reluctant to change with any real impetus. So, cloud monitor, can't see it, not for some time yet.
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