Cloud computing comes into focus

BOSTON 'Many technology experts are predicting a bright future for cloud computing. Rishi Chandra, Google Apps product manager at Google Enterprise, said his company is going after enterprise business in part because organizations are ready to embrace cloud computing.

The reliability of services such as Gmail and ubiquitous access to broadband Internet have led to the rising interest in cloud computing, Chandra said at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

Gmail, Google's free Web-based e-mail service, is a basic example of cloud computing. Users access the application and data via the Web rather than from a local e-mail server. Messages are saved in the cloud, so to speak, and not on a user's laptop or desktop PC.

Although he didn't predict that client-based software would disappear, Chandra said he expects a significant rise in cloud computing in the next few years.

One of the biggest hurdles the technology must overcome is enabling users to access data and applications when the Internet is not available. Google recently began to offer off-line versions of its Google Apps to respond to that issue.

NomaDesk, a virtual file network from Aventiv, is one answer to the off-line dilemma, said Jeff Jochum, Aventiv's chief marketing officer.

'With the Web 2.0 philosophy, it becomes fairly clear that what you need to do is not only have the cloud available so that everybody can access it, but you actually have to drive that data back down to every client so that they can access it when the cloud isn't available,' Jochum said.

NomaDesk is essentially a Web-based file server. Anytime changes are made in the file server directory, the changes are automatically sent to the server and stored. The updated files are then propagated and replicated to all of the appropriate people in an organization.

'In essence, what we do is we allow the collaboration and sharing of all files, but the beauty is we are just as effective off-line as we are online,' Jochum said.

The company, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., has roots in Belgium and provides its services to the Belgium government, said Filip Tack, Aventiv's chief executive officer. 'Our product can handle rich content such as audio,' he added. 'So the transcripts the government gets from parliamentary sessions can be shared very elegantly with our platform.'

One of the biggest benefits of Web 2.0 and cloud computing for government agencies is the ability to effectively collaborate, Jochum said.

Likewise, Box.net's enterprise version is designed to help organizations store data online and collaborate, said Jim Herbold, Box.net's vice president of sales and enterprise general manager.

'It gives your employees the tools to store and manage files online, but it also lets them invite outsiders to have access to those files with different provisions,' Herbold said.

The success of Salesforce.com and Google Apps indicates government customers are ready for Web-based collaboration tools, he said. Yet hurdles still exist.

'Security is definitely a concern as we get into the government space,' Herbold said. 'That's one of the reasons we put together our enterprise service. It has an administrator console that allows high-level oversight and control over the activities of the end users.'

Administrators decide who can access which files. And they can limit what those users can do with the files. Some users might have read-only access, while others might be allowed to edit files.

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