Mobile Cloud Computing: Next Big Thing or Dead End - Part I

soonrscreena.jpgEarly last year, Soonr, a Silicon Valley start-up, launched what may be the first of a new breed of mobile application for the enterprise—one that leverages the power of the cloud.

The Soonr application (see right) automatically synchronizes the documents on your office computer -- it supports 30 different file types -- to a server on the Web, and then makes them available, in very readable format, on your iPhone over a wireless network. Your files are secure and available wherever you go.

Is the notion of mobile computing in the cloud the next big thing in enterprise mobility? Or just an evolutionary cul-de-sac? We'll explore the question in a two-part series starting here.

The Soonr application and the Soonr approach represent one way to skin the mobile cloud computing cat. There are others, as we'll see.

It could be argued, of course, that applications such as BlackBerry Internet Service, which provides non-enterprise customers with the same functionality as BlackBerry Enterprise server, is the original mobile cloud app.

But the new notion of cloud computing on mobile devices implies much less complex development efforts to implement and fewer resources on the handheld to enable.

Philippe Winthrop, research director for business mobility at analyst firm Strategy Analytics, has been talking up mobile cloud computing for a few months. His argument is simple.

"There is no question that organizations are starting to believe in the cloud," Winthrop says. "There is no question that organizations believe in mobility. I ask the question, 'What is preventing the two not just coexisting but becoming more entwined?'"

"There is no reason they shouldn't. So I think organizations should start looking at this, at how they can marry the benefits of the two."

Mobile cloud computing in Winthrop's vision—using small-footprint browser plugins or widgets to connect to SaaS products or enterprise apps—would be good for enterprises for all the reasons cloud computing in general is, he says.

Using SaaS (Software as a Service) applications theoretically reduces the IT management burden by moving software and hardware maintenance overheads to the service provider, and centralizing monitoring of applications.

Some analysts rain on the SaaS parade by pointing out that if you compare total cost of ownership for SaaS and licensed applications over typical amortization periods, SaaS ultimately costs more. It simply moves costs from capital to operational budgets.

Still, Winthrop is not wrong when he says that enterprises are beginning to see possibilities in cloud computing.

IDC has forecast that spending on IT cloud services will grow almost threefold by 2012, reaching $42 billion. And that spending will continue to accelerate over the next four years, accounting for 25% of overall IT spending growth in 2012, and more than 30% in 2013.

Cloud computing also generates green benefits by consolidating computing resources in one place on relatively few servers, thus reducing power and cooling requirements.

More to the point for mobility, perhaps, it moves processing and logic to a central server, as with client server computing. And in Winthrop's vision, it requires only a browser and a browser-based widget on the mobile device. Resource challenged mobiles will have less heavy lifting to do, clearly a good thing.


Blackberry, iPhone, applications, productivity, mobile cloud computing
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