As Mobile Grows, So Does Cloud Computing

As PC sales decline and smartphone and tablet sales climb, the world of computing is poised for a dramatic shift. While mobile users do, in fact, 'compute' with their devices, application data and functionality actually reside in the cloud. To accommodate this, columnist Bernard Golden says, the cloud will have to grow in ways that few can currently comprehend.

By Bernard Golden
Tue, October 23, 2012

CIO — Analyst firm IHS published an important study last week. It predicts that, for the first time ever, PC shipments would drop year-over-year; for 2012, total shipments will drop 1.2 percent. IDC and Gartner agree, noting that third quarter PC shipments fell 8 percent. It's the steepest drop since 2001.

While it's clear that use of new form factors such as smartphones and tablets has been skyrocketing over the past few years, this study is the first that indicates that this growth, far from incremental, is taking share from the previously dominant form factor. Of course, some may not accept the study's findings, feeling that rumors of the death of the PC have been overstated. It may be the case, too, that the total number of PCs sold in 2012 won't really shrink but may, instead, end up showing modest growth.

Whether you accept the study's prediction or not, it's clear that the heady growth of PCs is over and this form factor now represents a mature market. Incremental growth in client use will shift to these new form factors.

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What's crucial to understand, however, is that these form factors are just moving into their torrid growth phase, and the total client device market is going to explode well beyond common expectations. Put more simply, while PCs recently have been growing on the order of 5 percent or 10 percent per year, these new devices are growing at rates exceeding 100 percent; in a few years their growth will cause the overall client device market to be 500 percent or even 1,000 percent larger.

Mobile Users Compute 'With' Devices, Not 'On' Them

That growth is going to make the cloud computing phenomenon even bigger.

Why? It's simple. Smartphones and tablets are application consumption devices. People don't do computing on them, they do computing with them. While the data may emanate from the device (a digital photo taken with an iPhone app, for example), the computing for that app typically resides elsewhere—in the cloud.

I do far more computing with my iPad than I ever imagined, but the computing is of a different form than what I do with my laptop or desktop machine. I consume media (Netflix and Amazon Video), interact with apps (Feedly for RSS feeds, SlideShark to display presentations, and specialized apps to interact with different services like that from my local library system), and perform ongoing business functions such as reading email—but I am not, generally speaking, creating much data or content on the device.

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