Most of the speculation surrounding the impact of cloud computing on the enterprise centers around data center and application architectures. What types of services are most cloud-friendly? Will we ever see the rise of the all-cloud enterprise?
But increasingly, it appears that the cloud is gearing up for some major changes to an entirely different set of resources: the desktop.
Forward thinkers are already envisioning a world in which the once almighty desktop gives way to a slew of online applications, data and content accessible for a wide range of fixed and mobile devices. Productivity will no longer be defined in terms of the amount of data being processed at any given time, but by users' ability to access that data no matter where they are, and then share it across a range of platforms in real time and in a collaborative fashion. Teamwork, untethered by wires or bulky, immovable devices, will be the key to success.
Which is not to say the desktop will go away completely - just that its role as a distributed source of computing power and storage is likely to erode. Of course, that leads to another problem entirely: the need to synchronize data across these various platforms to ensure that everyone is working on the same page, literally. Providing that ability has become the focus of a number of startups looking to tap into cloud momentum.
A company called Box.net, for example, recently launched a new service called Box Sync, which automatically syncs files stored on the desktop and in the cloud. The goal is to provide a two-fold guarantee that the data you have on your mobile device is the same on your desktop. Access is assured regardless of whether you are on the road and the data was created and stored on the desktop, or even if it was stored online through a Web connection that has since gone down.
For Google Docs users, Mameo has a new version of its Connect platforms that enables synchronization with desktop resources through the use of the Google GDrive. The service allows you to access the GDrive just like any other drive on the network, allowing for automatic updates of online data that can be accessed from multiple sources.
For some, though, the cloud represents an opportunity to remake the desktop entirely. Why bother with just applications and data on the cloud when you can host not only servers and storage, but desktop images themselves. In that way, the cloud could kill off the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platforms cropping up in large organizations, according to MuleSource co-founder Dave Rosenberg. After all, it does no good to simply take the same fat client and bulky operating system and recast it onto the cloud.
As the late, great Sister Rosetta Tharpe once sang, strange things are happening every day. And while techies across the enterprise might appreciate the many ways the cloud is changing the IT universe, the larger set of knowledge workers won't catch on until it starts to change their desktops.