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What's White, Fluffy and Worth $20 Trillion?

What's White, Fluffy and Worth $20 Trillion?

Like a real cloud, the digital cloud is something you can’t grasp in your hands to feel or examine. But, the cloud is a concept worth understanding. Companies around the world spend close to 4 trillion dollars on IT (Gartner) and within a few decades, most of that will very likely be in the cloud. 

For many of us, the cloud is an abstract concept. “Your photos are on the cloud” the techy people say – we nod along, too embarrassed to ask what that actually means.

So, what is the cloud?

When you use software, like Microsoft’s Office 365 or Salesforce, which operate through the internet – you’re using the cloud. These very words were written with the help of the cloud – using Google Docs while listening to Biffy Clyro’s Cloud of Stink on Spotify. My document, and Biffy Clyro’s notes, aren’t stored on my computer. Everything is stored on a server in a data centre (or possibly several) somewhere in the world. That’s the cloud, or at least part of it. But the cloud is so much more than apps we use through the internet. 

Gavin Stanley (Mathematics, 2002) is a Business Operations and Strategy Principal in Google Cloud’s technology partnerships team. He’s at the forefront of working with companies to move their IT infrastructure from their own data centres and servers to the Google Cloud. 

“It's inevitable that companies will embrace the cloud – if you don’t, you'll likely fall behind those that do, due to the cost savings and, more importanly, innovative capabilities offered by the cloud, such as data analytics & machine learning. If you think about all the business problems that cloud technology could solve, we're talking about a twenty trillion dollar digital transformation opportunity (Microsoft),” Gavin said.

Cloud wars

Competition between cloud services is high. The battle is at its fiercest between giants of the technology world – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Google.“Over the last three years we’ve been building like crazy – new infrastructure, features and services and our team. It's a great experience but there is a lot of pressure to grow fast and capitalise on this massive opportunity,” Gavin said.

If they’re not battling AWS and Microsoft to fill their clouds, Google is protecting it from hackers. So, how safe is our data in the cloud? “I believe it's more difficult to hack Google than any other company in the world” explains Gavin, “though it’s useful to differentiate data security from data privacy.”

“Data security is how we protect data from malicious attacks. We build in security from the ground up, right from the chip to the server to our data centres, which have security guards and 24/7 supervision. We have the most advanced encryption techniques in the world and have teams constantly trying to hack our systems.“Data privacy is about what we do with your data once we have it.

Alongside complying with global regulations, we prevent anyone in Google from accessing personal sensitive data unless they have a valid business reason – to see credit card data for example, you need to go through layers of approval and have advanced detective controls, so if someone abuses the system, they're disciplined, including termination if necessary. It very rarely happens but when it does, people see the consequences,” Gavin added.

The future of the cloud

The move to the cloud represents the biggest shift in enterprise IT ever, not so much due to its core functionality that builds on previous technology shifts such as client-server & virtualization technologies, but rather how it enables businesses.“As companies leverage advanced services like machine learning and data analytics, more and more businesses are going to realise that the cloud can not only transform their internal IT infrastructure and business processes, but more importantly transform how they build better products and bring them to market.

This will ultimately drive top line revenue growth and competitive differentiation for early movers to the cloud. Software companies in particular, if they don’t move or are slow to do so, may struggle to compete further driving the move to the cloud over the next few decades,” Gavin said.

Forecast: cloudy but bright.


Tom Hills, staff writerWords: Tom Hills, Connect Staff Writer

Writer, coffee enthusiast, amateur photographer and perpetual learner. Currently checking items off a '30 things to do before 30' list. Constantly in beta mode - formerly a marine biologist, forever a scientist.