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The real cloud computing revolution

Bernard Golden | July 2, 2014
Reports of cloud computing's death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, a visit to the recent Cloud World Forum proved that companies of all shapes and sizes see the public cloud as an effective response to the stimulus of competitive conditions, even if many cloud vendors still think it's 2009.

Lonely Planet Online Platform Manager Darragh Kennedy described how the travel guide publisher shifted its Web presence from an internal data center to a public cloud environment to better manage erratic traffic patterns and support more frequent application updates. Lonely Planet now runs its entire infrastructure in a public cloud environment.

Lest you think only avant-garde technology companies or bohemian travel firms embrace public cloud computing, John Pillar, head of software engineering for Marks & Spencer, presented how M&S used integrated multimedia (TV adverts, Twitter, Facebook and Web-based voting) as its key Christmas marketing vehicle. The campaign asked people to choose the name of celebrity endorser Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's terrier puppy, kicking off with a lengthy fairy tale-inspired TV spot featuring Huntington-Whiteley and Oscar winner Helena Bonham Carter that directed viewers to a campaign-specific website to vote for either "Magic" or "Sparkle."

M&S placed the website in a public cloud environment to ensure sufficient capacity to handle application traffic. In the end, more than 130,000 people voted, with the result announced during a broadcast of the very popular Downton Abbey. (Sparkle was the people's choice; here social media experts discuss the Marks & Spencer campaign.) M&S, by the way, is no arriviste; it's been around since 1904.

These examples show that organizations large and small, young and old, embrace cloud computing despite the conventional wisdom that the cloud is really nothing new, or will eventually die off due to its unsupportable economics, or IT's insistence that cloud will make sense once it builds out an internally hosted cloud environment.

Competitive Conditions Send Companies to Cloud
Given this perspective, there's an obvious question: Why did these organizations turns to public cloud environments, despite their putative disadvantages? I believe the answer is clear. Competitive conditions require faster delivery and innovative solutions that existing IT environments and processes couldn't support.

F1 racing is one of the most brutally competitive business environments around. Louis notes it's a global industry worth $4 billion. Lotus measures its competition in meters per lap. In such an environment, being able to rapidly react by gathering data and running simulations is critical. Cloud's elasticity and enormous capacity accelerates this function, letting Lotus stretch for the minute improvements that make the difference between spraying champagne on the winner's podium and disconsolately packing up the race trailer as an also-ran.

Lonely Planet, meanwhile, faces a changing set of competitors. I asked Kennedy why his company had instituted its changes. His competitors used to be other book publishers, with product cycles measured in months or years; today he competes with Google and online travel sites that roll out constant updates. The ability to update information or roll out new features almost immediately is vital.


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