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FOSE 2008: Google Says Cloud Computing Is The Future

While barriers to implimentation, such as security risks, still exist, the benefits of storing information in offsite data centers are spurring innovation, Google Enterprise's chief says.

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"The idea of access anywhere has been around for awhile," he told the audience. "Everyone ought to have equal access to information around the world." The hallmark of cloud computing is its simplicity of use, he said, comparing the user experience to that of using Google's ubiquitous search engine. "All the complexity is behind the scenes," he said. "You don't need to go to a training course to take advantage of it."

He used Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, which supports 30 percent of its energy needs through the use of solar power, as an example of how altruism and business can work together as the cost of energy rises and demand for even larger data centers increases. While he noted that Google's data centers consume far more energy than the central headquarters, the point is how energy can be most effectively used. "That's what cloud computing is," he said.

Cloud computing also bolsters a concept central to Google's mission -- the democratization of information and capabilities. "Cloud computing is pushing hard the theory of big companies vs. small companies, developed vs. developing nations and teams vs. individuals," he said. "On the Web today with cloud computing a few people anywhere in the world can create a company that can compete with almost anybody, and it's incredibly cheap to do so."

Girouard used the speech to highlight the evolution of innovation from its focus on corporations to the consumer market. "Thirty years ago all the best technology was in the corporate world. That has inverted entirely," he said. "At home, you've got powerful computers with broadband capability. You go to work and you feel like you've gone back in time twenty years," he said to laughter.

He criticized the model of distribution at the enterprise level, where vendors sell to the IT or business buyer with little input from the end-user. The consumer market, where high volumes of vendors sell directly to the end-user -- what Girouard considers a Darwinian model. "If your product doesn't meet the needs of the end user, you go out of business," he said. "What if you could get the best of both worlds? That's what I think cloud computing can offer."

The government, Girouard said, needs to tap into a model that drives innovation the same way the consumer model works. He cited the rapid success of Apple's iPhone taking 28 percent of the smartphone market as an example of this. "Consumer driven innovation almost sounds like a heretical idea, but that mentality has inverted entirely," he said.

Girouard acknowledged there are still several barriers to adoption of cloud computing. Broadband connectivity is an absolute requirement, as well as ironclad reliability and the ability to access information and applications offline. Offline access, he noted, is something Google knows users want. He pointed to Google's recent announcement it is working toward making its Google Docs application work offline as evidence Google recognizes the importance in overcoming this bottleneck.

The last, and largest barrier, he said, concerns security --- a top priority for government agencies, especially when personal information would be stored on a "cloud" located elsewhere. The point Girouard tried to make, however, is that endpoint devices are likely the most severe source of data leaks.

He cited reports that found one in 10 laptops are stolen in the first year they're purchased -- more than 2 million per year. He pointed to an instance where his own laptop was stolen from his car during a San Francisco Giants baseball game. "There was nothing on that laptop," he said. "Everything was stored remotely -- there was no loss of data, and no loss of productivity."

Because security remains the major issue, cultivating trust between software vendors and government institutions is critical. "If you're turning over your most sensitive data to a third party, it's all about 'Who do you trust?'" he said. "This won't happen overnight, and Google will need to prove this, but we're committed to doing it."

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