The Mobile/Cloud Era

A Perspective on 2013

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For my 2013 year end blog, I want to step back and talk about a broad trend that I see blooming in the industry. It’s pervasive and has profound impact. We are in what I call the Mobile/Cloud era of computing. Mobile/cloud is this era’s equivalent of client/server. They are independent entities with unique capabilities that are self-reinforcing and synergistic with one other. They drive one other forward, and together they comprise the next generation application platform.

Cloud has many attributes with both business and technology drivers, however in the context of a backend application platform, it means something very distinct. Cloud is about massive, virtually unlimited compute cycles available on-demand. It’s about serious scale bandwidth and IOPS for both network and storage traffic. It’s about massive storage capacity, also available on an as-needed basis and consumed as an operational cost without upfront investment. It’s about more easily useable grid or massively parallel computing capabilities on-demand coupled with the software architectures to exploit them. And finally Big Data – real-time business analytics spanning massive data sets that enables us to make sense of our world at any instant in time. This is the “server” of today, powering the backend of these next generation applications. But what is the user interface to these capabilities?

Increasingly it’s mobile devices. More people are using mobile devices, tablets and smart phones to access cloud services. This means accessing cloud services on the go, not just tethered to an office or a desk. Most of our mobile devices have touch-based interfaces instead of a mouse and keyboard, leading to ergonomic changes in our applications. In addition, there are also new user interface inputs in this world that in turn enable entirely new applications and workflows that couldn’t exist efficiently a short number of years ago. What are some examples of these inputs? Location coordinates via GPS, and cameras that capture and process images. I’m not referring to family photos, but rather images to process, QR and barcodes to scan, and increasingly image recognition. Also speech, and some day very soon, gestures. These capabilities as inputs to cloud services fundamentally change the types of applications and workflows we construct.

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Let me share some examples. Field workers are now able to scan barcodes on equipment with their phones and look up maintenance records for what operations need to be performed when they are on site.

Plane delays and gate change information have been reported via text and email alerts for a while now. More advanced is interactive, real-time mass transit info, made available from the cloud and processed by our mobile apps. I now have an app on my phone that tells me when the next Boston MBTA subway train will arrive at the Kendall Square station near my office. And it does this automatically in the notification window, triggered by me walking near the station. We’re not limited to mass transit. And of course we can’t forget about our favorite navigation applications with increasingly accurate traffic data that has plug-ins to “find my friends” and even “find my car.” All these are workflows that could not exist without the mobile/cloud synergy.

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I’ve also spoken with various county governments who take photos of potholes and upload them with GPS coordinates to work for scheduling. In the Boston area, we’ve taken that one step further – there’s an application in the App Store for citizens to report and register roads needing repair and they get added to the City’s work queue. Crowd-sourced road repair!

Also, more and more of our devices are intelligent and communicate with each other and our mobile phones, brokered via the cloud. My thermostats have schedules stored in the cloud. They figure out whether I’m home or not, adjusting the room temperature accordingly and are also controllable from my phone. These are complex, distributed systems at work.

My 2014 Predictions…and beyond!

So, what do I predict for next year in mobile/cloud? I think we will see a growing realization that mobile app to cloud services is the key distributed application construct to focus on.  That means less focus on securing and managing physical devices, as well as less reliance on VPNs and the corporate LAN itself since it is becoming a less significant boundary. There will be a greater focus on app to cloud service security technologies. I think we will see more embracing of mobile/cloud applications in our day to day lives. The apps on your phone will become the brains for your car’s navigation and audio systems, and the car dashboard becomes just the display technology.

As part of this broader movement to the mobile/cloud, I predict 2014 will be a big year for Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) aka Windows-as-a-Service. With users demanding greater mobility and access while IT departments look for ways to reduce TCO of enterprise desktops, DaaS is an ideal approach for enabling/delivering access to business critical Windows applications for mobile users in a cost effective manner.

Our phones will also become more common as a payment engine in stores. I also predict that our phones will be used more pervasively as identification mechanisms – text message password callbacks and the Apple iPhone 5s-like fingerprint authentication will become prevalent as a replacement for 2-factor authentication. I also think we may well see our mobile device front-end backed by cloud services become our IDs, replacing physical driver’s licenses and corporate badges/key cards. Wallets are going to follow watches into the realm of fashion accessories, and will no longer be essential entities that everyone carries.

There have been interesting studies lately on how crowd sourced shopping reviews are changing our behaviors, especially with regard to effectiveness of consumer product marketing. I think automated analytics on consumer reviews will become more pervasive and mainstream. I suspect that our mobile devices wilI help us pick not just which products to buy, but also our service providers, automatically based on these analytics. I predict that cumbersome tasks such as deciding on home service workers and contractors will be intelligently sourced through our devices.  Instead of hoping you get somebody reliable recommended through your friends and colleagues, the aggregate ratings will provide you with better vetted services. I also think the trend of our devices as remote controls for physical world devices brokered through the cloud will continue as well. We will advance from home cameras, remote DVR control and thermostats to more pervasive controls and robots. In five years I look forward to the day when the maps app on my mobile device drives my car from point A to point B, starting with driving itself from a remote parking lot to the door of the building I’m in.

I could go on and on, but I hope the pattern is clear here. Mobile/cloud applications are quite different than the PC client/server applications we used. They are more pervasive, they make our lives easier. And as you can see, the use cases they enable are completely foreign to the PC-based client/server world. Very exciting times for our industry!

 

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