Elon Musk on a housing estate. That’s not a place you expect to find the billionaire owner of PayPal, Tesla and Space X, to name just a few of his pastimes. However, this is no ordinary housing estate. It’s a presentation set constructed for the purpose of launching his latest world-changing product called Tesla Solar Roof. Simply put, these are roof tiles that convert the full area of your roof into a single large solar panel that powers your home more efficiently than panels. He claims that it’s also cheaper to re-roof your house with these tiles than traditional slate or Tuscan tiles. Revolution meets evolution.
So what does this have to do with the arguments for cloud computing versus on-premise server hardware and software? That will be explained later. For now, most people know that cloud is simply applications or services that are stored and managed on the servers of a global company, such as Apple or Google, whereby the end user just accesses the service without having to install anything on their own computers. It’s argued that, particularly for small businesses, having someone else remove the need for you to maintain your own security, update your own software and configure your own hardware is a dream come true. Others argue that you lose control and ask whether you can trust the ‘cloud’ when companies like TalkTalk and Three can’t even manage customer data.
It comes down to risk and control versus capability. If you don’t have the time, skills or budget as a small or medium business to install and manage multiple technologies then you’ll never have access to the tools that your larger industry peers use to beat you every day.
Cloud can break this cycle. If all you need to do is be a user of the world’s best customer database, accounting, quotation, site management, HR, document workflow, email, or ecommerce software without having to install, manage, upgrade and secure it, then you’re as mighty as the biggest of your competitors.
Putting it another way, let’s say that you want to rent or buy commercial property. It’s doubtful that as part of the buying process you would consider building an electricity generation plant, water treatment and supply infrastructure, plus a drilled gas extraction plant. It’s assumed you would just consume electricity, gas and water through the grids; your considerations go as far thinking about how to get connected up. However, you may decide to have some smart technologies on-premise to control the timings and way that you use the energy.
This combination of on-premise light controls and use of cloud infrastructure (existing services that you get connected to) is known to the IT industry as hybrid IT or hybrid cloud. In reality, there will be a period of this hybrid state before businesses are fully cloud consumption-based. Getting rid of existing technology in the business is as much a cultural shift as it is a practical one. It takes time to migrate data from on-premise systems into cloud, dispose of existing IT equipment and existing IT contracts.
So, back to Elon Musk. The solar roof technology simply taps you into the existing electricity grid. It mirrors the benefits of cloud computing because it is far more efficient than existing ways of doing things, just like cloud versus ‘traditional IT’, and can turn electricity from a cost into a profit maker for the user. However, a solar roof does use of some of your existing technology in that it needs to be installed on-premise, hence it could more accurately be defined as a hybrid technology in line with the hybrid IT definition above. Ultimately, solar communities may emerge that allow others to consume solar generation or become co-operative participants in selling solar power to the grid even though they have no solar technology of their own. This would then take solar into the realm of true consumption-only cloud.
Companies like Appura, a cloud-based start-up that makes the use of cloud applications simpler, safer and cheaper, and all from one place, believes that 100 per cent cloud is the place that businesses really want to live. The business owners that we talk to want a place where you don’t pay to install IT tools, freeing you up to run your business; a place where you only pay for what you use and what you use is best in class. It’s called cloud and is a very tough place for on-premise IT to compete with.
Julian Painter is CEO of Appura.