The clouds are forming over Irish business

Far from a meaningless buzzword, cloud computing heralds a huge development in the way in which businesses will exploit information technology into the future, writes Cliona Ward

THE “cloud”, as a term, is not as nebulous as it may seem. In its simplest form, “cloud computing” refers to a system whereby data and applications, normally installed and kept on your computer or local server, are instead stored in data centres, or server farms, outside your location. These applications are then “pulled down” from the digital cloud as and when you need them, via the internet.

Cloud computing is revolutionising the way in which businesses manage their IT needs. A move to the cloud allows for a more collaborative and flexible work environment, and also allows companies to control the level of computing power they need at any one time, which ultimately saves money.

In the past, a company would need to purchase software and additional computers or servers to meet an increase in their computing needs. With the “cloud”, rather than purchasing this additional power, these same computing resources are accessed on a consumption-based, pay-as-you-use model under short-term contracts, thus helping to reduce costs by eliminating the need for up-front expenditure.

The cloud also eliminates unnecessary waste, in that users of the cloud only pay for the additional resources as needed, rather than buying an entire server or software package that is only run for a short length of time.

“This is no different to the way households or businesses purchase utilities, such as electricity, gas or on-demand videos,” explains William Opperman, co-founder and chief technology officer of MPSTOR, a Cork-based cloud software development company.

“Rather than having to own all its own computers and software, a household or business can rent access to the computing power they need and have this delivered through their TV console, a Tablet PC [such as an iPad] or through any low power computer terminal,” he says.

MPSTOR is carving out a niche market for itself in the cloud sector by developing open platform cloud computing software called “Orkestra”, which is compatible with all open cloud-computing platforms. The company has continued to grow despite the worsening economic climate, as Mr Opperman explains the software they offer helps companies to “cut costs and, for this reason, the growth in cloud computing has, if anything, been increased during the credit crunch”.

“Cloud computing will have the same impact on the IT industry, over the next two to three years, that the internet had over the past 15 years,” says MPSTOR’s managing director, Tony McEnroe. “It will radically change the way everyone uses computers.”

Earlier this year, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) launched the world’s first degree programmes in cloud computing, and are continuing to foster their foothold in the area.

Tim Horgan, of CIT’s Department of Computing, is working on a “very exciting” new program that he hopes will help highly skilled graduates to re-enter the jobs market.

He says: “At present, there are jobs in the IT sector in Cork but nobody to fill them. I believe very strongly that we have a large number of graduates who have level eight degrees and are highly focused and highly skilled people with transferable skills from related industries; but unfortunately find themselves unemployed. It feels like the only logical thing to do is to provide a conversion programme that will transition those graduates into the IT area, which would afford them the opportunity to take on an internship and ultimately get back into full-time employment”.

Research published by Microsoft Ireland earlier this month, showed that nearly 60% of small and medium Irish business owners expect the business environment in Ireland to improve over the next 12 to 18 months. Nearly half of those surveyed (49%) said the use of computer technology will be the deciding factor in whether or not their business will do well in the New Year.

While the “cloud” itself may be digital, Ireland’s cloudy and temperate climate offers a unique opportunity for growth in the cloud sector. The cool and unchanging temperatures we are all accustomed to are ideal for operating data centres. These data centres can spend more than 20% of their operation costs on power, so a milder climate means lower energy bills to cool the servers.

“Clusters of cloud computing expertise are forming in different parts of the world and there is huge opportunity for Ireland to be the centre of a European development cluster” says Mr Opperman.

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