You may have heard about the cloud, the "next big thing" in computing, virtual storage, sharing, and internet technology. And even if you haven't, you're likely using cloud-based services in your home or workplace already, such as Gmail, Skype, Dropbox, and more. In anticipation of "Living in the Cloud," our free webinar on Thursday, August 2, we interviewed presenter Thomas Koulopolous about his book, Cloud Surfing, the business and personal implications of the cloud, and where this innovation will lead in the coming years.
People-OnTheGo: What prompted you to write Could Surfing? And why now?
Thomas Koulopoulos: The book started nearly three years ago with a simple premise that nearly every social, economic, academic, and business institution is being threatened by the intense hyperconnectivity of the cloud—and yet this hyperconnectivity will increase tenfold in less than a decade. The implications are beyond our wildest imagination.
You mention risk, innovation, scale, and success. Do you believe that the risk is well-managed now, and that success outweighs the risk?
I believe that the appetite for risk is very much a cultural norm that is influenced by the price of failure and the cost of experimentation. For example, the risks we took to put a man on the moon or to end World War II had enormous implications that we were willing to accept because failure was not an option. In some way we lament the progress made in those eras and we talk about how that appetite for risk has changed radically. However, what I see as a result of the cloud is that today young entrepreneurs celebrate failure and experimentation. They discount the risk and have much less fear of it. The reason is simple: they can experiment quickly and at near zero cost, while also having a shot at changing the world à la Facebook or Twitter. It's no longer about just managing risk, it's about accepting it with open arms.
How do you compare cloud computing to the mainframe era from years ago? What are the resemblances and the key differences?
I often hear people say that cloud is just the old time-sharing model used in the mainframe era. That is an incredibly simple way to avoid the disruption that the cloud will cause. The cloud is not just about technology. The cloud is about connectivity. Mainframes did very little to connect people and machines. They were repositories of data and information which caused organizations to be inwardly focused on highly structured frameworks for how pieces of data worked together. The cloud is all about connections, a focus on the outside, and a lack of structure where data and information are being brought together in ways we never could have rationally anticipated.
What would be the top cloud services that businesses "must" explore?
Start with the basics: storage and computing (aka Amazon); move onto processes and applications (aka Salesforce); from there go to private clouds (putting your apps in the cloud), then consider which apps you can provision to the public cloud. Having done that you have about 1% of the cloud under your belt. Again, the misunderstanding is that the cloud is all about technology. It's not. The cloud is about how you employ people, utilize talent, collaborate, predict, infer sentiment, shape and influence markets, and ultimately how you build your business model. That is a long journey.
Why should individuals explore the cloud?
The most amazing thing I see among individuals over the age of 40 is that they bury their head in the sand when it comes to the cloud. The only practical answer to how you will survive the cloud is to learn how to surf it. That only comes with using it. So rather then poo poo Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and instant messaging, I tell people to just use them. Even if they can't possibly see value to it. The reality is that the value of the cloud will change. While there may be much more effort involved in extracting value from the cloud today than most people think they will get back, it is still something you need to use to appreciate and to evolve with. If you sit on the sidelines you had better be ready for an incredibly steep learning curve.
Where do you see this phenomenon going 5 or 10 years from now?
I often joke that the best futurists are not the pundits, gurus, or economists but rather the science fiction writers. Wells, Asimov, Heinlein, Clark were all much better and much closer at predicting the future than the best pundit. The acceleration of the cloud will be unlike anything we have experienced. Yet, there are some telltales that show us the trajectory. The best one is to watch the way your kids behave online. Look at how they game, socialize, play. What you are seeing is how they will work. To me that is the best indicator of how radically different even the near-term future will be. The good news (or perhaps the bad news for some) is that most of us will be here to see that future. Whether we will be ready for it and be able to surf it is another matter all together.