If I read the tea leaves correctly (or is that banana fronds?), that big old desktop computer or high-powered laptop in your home or office—the one that’s packed with expensive software, hardware, and gigabytes of storage space—will soon be outmoded, as will all those storage CDs, DVDs, and productivity software suites that are stacked on your shelves, collecting dust.

In fact, by the end of this decade if you believe most experts, we won’t need most of that “stuff” anymore. We’ll all be computing in “The Cloud.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Cloud.” For a long time, it’s seemed to be one of those trendy terms people throw around to prove just how cutting edge they are. What’s more, it sounds mysterious, downright nebulous (cloud pun intended).

Well, the Cloud is real . . . and it sounds like it’s here to stay. Many of us already have our heads in the cloud, so to speak. Think online sites where you store pictures and music; think email services such as hotmail and gmail; think sites where you stream the latest episodes of your favorite TV shows; think anything where the necessary computing power or storage takes place in some location other than on your local computer. That is the Cloud.

In a fully developed Cloud model, in place of traditional computers and laptops, we’ll be using sleek devices—such as tablets, smart phones, net books, and/or flat screen monitors with keyboards—loaded only with browser-like applications so we can surf the Web, send and receive email, write reports and crunch numbers with our favorite productivity software, and upload and download pictures and music. And we’ll be doing it “pay as you go,” only buying access to the software or the storage or the operating platform we want, when we want it, and for as long as we want it.

You won’t need to have all your computing power under your roof, or within your computer’s chassis. Much like an electrical supplier provides power to your home or office and maintains the lines, a Cloud service supplier (or suppliers) will provide software, the systems, and bandwidth, and all you’ll need is a computer and an Internet connection to access it.

The possibilities are endless.

Need a certain application to complete a task, but don’t want to spend $1,000 for what’s sure to be one-time use? Need the latest version of productivity software so you can create and share a proposal with colleagues? Need terabytes of storage space so you can store and back-up your Itunes library or family photos (or both). Computing in the Cloud, you’ll be able to access all the tools you’ll need and all your files, too, no matter where you are.

Of course there are challenges and far-reaching implications to such a shift from our present computing paradigm.

  • How will Cloud computing affect businesses? With less or no in-house productivity software to maintain and support, will IT jobs disappear . . . or simply shift to other venues (i.e. to the Cloud computing providers themselves)?
  • With improved access to the latest versions of popular software, will business productivity increase?
  • How will access (or lack of access) to high speed Internet affect the growth of the Cloud across diverse geographies?
  • How reliable will access to the Cloud be? What if you can’t get online? Are you stuck, as compared to now when you can work offline?
  • Just how much will it cost, and how secure is data from hackers, from data miners, from catastrophic loss in cases of a natural disaster?
  • And what about those who won’t feel comfortable computing via the Cloud, will they still be able to get/use traditional software, storage media, and computers?

As you can see, there are many questions to be asked and answered, far more than the few I have noted here. While the cloud won’t arrive overnight, it is fast approaching. Already, Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and many others provide some form of Cloud services. Even the Federal Government is planning to adopt Cloud computing.

How do you think Cloud computing will affect you, personally or at work? Share your thoughts here.