Mobile Cloud: The Cloud's Second Act

If cloud computing is the new frontier, and mobility is the next big thing, then it stands to reason that the mobile cloud is the next big new frontier.

A great deal of lip service has been played to the mobile cloud. With massive proliferation of tablets and smartphones, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) revolution and the explosion of apps, it's become a mobile world. And according to a number of solution providers and cloud providers, the cloud and mobility go hand-in-hand. They're the current chocolate and peanut butter of IT.

And the mobile cloud represents cloud computing's second act, and the act where the value truly comes to light by unlocking the ability to access data and apps from any device, in any location and at any time, as long as there's Web access or a half-decent cellular connection.

But is the mobile cloud really something that's happening now? And is IT ready?

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"No, they're not ready. But, yes, it's happening," said Jim Damoulakis, CTO for GlassHouse Technologies, a Framingham, Mass.-based cloud provider.

According to Juniper Research, the mobile cloud market is expected to grow 88 percent annually in the five-year period from 2009 to 2014, pushing the total cloud-based mobile application market from more than $400 million in 2009 to $9.5 billion by 2014. And ABI Research estimated there will be just shy of 1 billion mobile cloud users come 2014, noting that "by 2014, mobile cloud computing will become the leading mobile application development and deployment strategy, displacing today's native and downloadable mobile applications." ABI also predicted that more than 240 million businesses will use cloud services through mobile devices by 2015.

The mobile cloud is different than standard mobility and apps. With mobile applications, the apps and the data stay on the device, they're local. The mobile cloud is a portal to an application and data that is hosted on the app provider's or someone else's servers.

In 2011, the mobile cloud more than tripled, according to Chicago-based cloud provider Model Metrics, issued a report earlier this year indicating that cloud that mobile use among its cloud computing customers has increased three fold in the first half of this year and is the top cloud priority in 2011. Model Metrics found than 80 percent of its customers have smartphone and tablet adoption plans as part of their broader cloud computing initiatives.

"The cloud has taken a new shape in 2011," Model Metrics CEO Adam Caplan said at the time. "It's no longer just moving business processes to the cloud; it's about deploying cutting-edge mobile and social apps that enable businesses to change the way their employees work."

In an interview earlier this year Mihir Panchal, senior product manager at Model Metrics, said the ability to access data from any backend from any device, and offering services around that capability, has been beefing up Model Metrics' bottom line. According to Panchal, about 20 percent of Model Metrics' business came through mobility, a number that is expected to balloon to between 30 percent and 40 percent in 2011.

"We're starting to see huge demand in the mobile cloud space," Panchal said, adding that Model Metrics focuses on services around, Amazon Web Services, Adobe and Google and has seen the smartphone and tablet revolution light a fire under its ability to offer mobile solutions in the cloud.

Cloud computing is tailor-made for mobility, said Tony Safoian, CEO of North Hollywood cloud provider SADA Systems. SADA recently added new mobility options to its solution set, launching services that deliver legacy and Windows applications to Google Chromebooks, the search giant's cloud-based notebooks.

Safoian said one of the key benefits of the cloud is that most applications can be accessed by a browser, making mobility an obvious benefit.

"When you think about building mobile apps, we built it for the mobile Web, we built it for the browser," he said. "It just works."

Safoian said the increased adoption of HTML5 on the front-end and leveraging the cloud on the backend, coupled with advancements in broadband connectivity, and the ability to access once clunky apps from any device in nearly any location has become a reality. And for developers and solution providers, that opens up new opportunities from both with services and app development.

"There's a lot of legitimacy in the app marketplace model; if you want to build it once and deploy everywhere," he said.

And more and more vendors are embracing the mobile cloud. recently launched a touch-screen specific version of its offering to be used by devices like the iPad and iPhone. That's in addition to its already impressive suite of mobile cloud services. Google, too, has made its Google Apps and Google Docs offerings accessible, usable and manageable via mobile devices to truly cut the cord and untether users. Other new services, like Apple iCloud, are continuing the mobile cloud charge, offering cloud storage direct from the device.

NEXT: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

According to Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Westborough, Mass.-based cloud provider, the reasons companies are turning to the cloud are shifting dramatically. A year ago, the top drivers to the cloud were to save money and to avoid costly upgrades. Now, he said, customers are turning to the clod to increase collaboration and sharing and for mobile integration.

One of the biggest drivers in the mobile cloud revolution, Falcon said, is users bringing in their own devices and expecting to use them for work.

"When it comes to mobile cloud, we definitely see that happening," he said, noting that users are saying they can get better computer power on their own than the ones they're provided.

Richard Taggart, lead partner, strategic consulting for Piscataway, NJ-based solution provider SHI, said that among SHI customers, cloud ranks as the first priority for CIOs and customers, while mobility and the consumerization of IT ranks a close second.

But Taggart noted that mobile cloud offerings won't be one-size fits all and it will happen in stages. SHI is looking to attack the mobile cloud market with a new service on tap for later this year called any device-as-a-service which will include an architecture design for mobile cloud and VDI. It will be delivered to customers as service, meaning they won't have to build out a full infrastructure.

For solution providers, this move toward any device and employee-owned devices creates new support opportunities from the device, management and mobile application side. It also opens the door to consulting work.

"If a user has an issue with the device, we'll help them," Falcon said.

Falcon said a shift is starting with what cloud apps are accessed via mobile devices as well. Traditionally, it's been e-mail, calendar and contacts that have been accessed most through mobile devices. Now, CRM and other business applications are taking top billing on mobile access want lists.

"They want to access all Web and cloud services," he said, adding that a common question he is asked of vendors is: "Do you know if they have an iPhone or Android app?"

This increase in apps and access will herald in the new trend of mobile cloud single sign on, where users can securely log in and access all of their cloud apps securely from their device.

But the BYOD wave doesn't come without challenges. Falcon said security remains a concern, as does management and support. Equally challenging is separating work data from personal data on an employee-owned device and ensuring that company data is protected if an employee leaves or is let go.

"You can't forget to kick them out of the CRM even if you've shut down access to everything else," he said.