Mobile devices will soon be driving cloud computing -- and vice versa. Here's why: It's very sensible to use a private cloud for security, management and other aspects of mobile applications. But getting there will require planning and investment by IT.
Some have already moved in this direction. In a December 2011 survey of 3,645 IT decision-makers in eight countries, a third of the respondents said that providing information access to multiple devices was their top reason for implementing cloud computing. The survey, fielded by researcher TNS and funded by service provider CSC, said that cutting costs was the third most popular reason for implementing cloud, with only 17% of respondents choosing that option.
Richard Peltz, senior vice president and CIO of Marcus & Millichap, a brokerage sales firm, is in the process of purchasing a content management system (CMS) developed by SiteCore; it will be implemented in Marcus & Millichap's private cloud, which is based on VMware software.
"The nice part of this is that we get automatic rendering of content to all mobile devices, removing or eliminating the need to write device-specific apps" for iPhone or Android devices, among others, Peltz explains. After the CMS is fully implemented, "it will allow all of our content to be managed by end users or departments or business units," he says.
By integrating CMS access for mobile devices into its private cloud, Marcus & Millichap will in essence be creating a mobile cloud.
Eric Miller, senior vice president and CIO at Erie Insurance, says that Erie thinks mobile first for all of its apps and then ports them to PCs when possible and when it makes sense.
"You are performing a balancing act with respect to which devices to support," he says. Erie uses Web analytics to track which devices are accessing the corporate website. "As the first step, we go after the top one, two, or three types of mobile devices. Then we create apps that are more adaptable to those devices."
Among the issues his group has wrestled with are whether to build a Web portal that adapts itself based on the device that is coming into it, or to go with a device-specific app. Today the firm is using both approaches. Customers with iPhones can submit photos of an auto accident or the damage from one, using the "First notice of loss" mobile application in the iTunes store. That information lands in Erie's back-end servers.
But the company also has a web portal "where I can do the exact same thing," Miller says. The goal is to have "inputs coming in from just about any mobile device."
Bernard Golden, CEO of consultancy HyperStratus, says these companies represent just the beginning of the mobile-cloud trend. With the increasing number and diversity of mobile computing devices, which have much less on-board storage than traditional end-user computing environments, there is a shift toward moving much of the functionality of an app into a centralized environment, like a cloud. This allows storage, computation, data access, security and management to all be handled in a centralized fashion.
The market for cloud-based mobile applications is expected to grow almost 90% from 2009 to 2014, according to Juniper Research. For its part, ABI Research reports that more than 240 million business customers will access cloud-computing services via mobile devices by 2015 and that number could approach a billion.