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Is the Cloud the Next Facebook in the Hype Cycle?

Some have argued that Facebook was overhyped, hence the reason for its current stock troubles. I've often been asked if the Cloud is heading down the same path, and whether we think Cloud technology is overhyped; however, the power the Cloud brings to our daily life is actually quite understated.
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We've all seen technologies that get overhyped -- built up beyond the reality of their impact. Some have argued that Facebook was overhyped, hence the reason for its current stock troubles. Inversely, others argue that Facebook has become so embedded in our lives that it is still underestimated compared to its long-term impact. I've often been asked if the Cloud is heading down the same path, and whether we think Cloud technology is overhyped. After all, the buzz around industry giants like Apple's iCloud and Google Drive entering the Cloud market is loud, and that feels risky to some.

To set the stage let me first define what the Cloud is. The Cloud is a relatively new term for what we have been doing increasingly since the invention of the Web -- using Internet technologies to do things (such as run applications or store data) that we previously did locally on our PCs. Companies such as SugarSync and Dropbox are providing tools that accelerate this shift through technology that more easily lets you use the Cloud in your daily life. And now that large players such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are entering the fray and imitating the innovators, there is more discussion about whether the Cloud is reaching the height of the hype cycle.

However, the power the Cloud brings to our daily life is actually quite understated. Yes, the excitement is great -- but the reality is even greater. What we are seeing is the intersection and synergy of societal trends magnified by technological forces that, in a virtuous cycle, enhance those societal trends.

Mobility -- One of the most important of those trends is mobility. Business is more global. Families are increasingly scattered around the planet. We are increasingly on the move visiting customers, factories and families. Yet, we still need to get work done as if we are in our traditional offices, and we want to stay in touch with our loved ones at home while visiting the ones far away. The Cloud keeps us connected. Collaborating on sets of documents when on the road, sending large but critical files via Web links and automatically uploading photos and videos from our devices -- the Cloud keeps us productive and in-touch while on the road. The Cloud helps achieve the true potential of today's smartphones and tablets, and as a result, makes us all more productive on the go.

Blending of Work and Personal Lives -- The second key trend is the intermingling of our work and personal lives. It's difficult to remember a time when leaving the office meant leaving your work behind for the day. Working on a key project into the evening from home, continuing to collaborate with coworkers, being available for calls with colleagues in different time zones -- that is now the norm. Similarly, checking into email or a file notification on our mobile devices while away from the office at a child's soccer game is part of our new lifestyle. While we may feel at times that work is intruding into our personal time, the fact that we can be professionally productive from anywhere, anytime, allows us to be more available to our families and friends. The soccer game cannot move its time and place to fit my work schedule, but the Cloud allows me to do my work anytime and anywhere. While the energy of interfacing together in the office is important to many organizations (including SugarSync), it's a relief knowing that, at any given moment on any given project, there is almost nothing I cannot do offsite as long as I have access to my information via the Cloud.

The Rise of the Virtual Company -- The third trend driving the Cloud is the rise of small business and growth of "virtual" companies. One of the great things about the Cloud is that, for the price of an office lunch, a small business can have access to collaboration, mobile access and backup up technologies that previously only large corporations with IT departments could manage and afford. Just as Web mail replaced the need for an on-premise Exchange server, technologies such as SugarSync allow a business person to have all the benefits of Sharepoint, FTP, online backup and more for as little as $5 a month. The effectiveness of Cloud collaboration makes it easy for consultants and other professionals to band together in virtual firms. For example, one SugarSync customer -- a translation company -- has interpreters in over a dozen countries collaborating on projects and acting as a unified organization leveraging real-time Cloud synchronization and collaboration.

All three of these trends are clearly self-reinforcing. Our ever-increasing mobility drives the demand for the Cloud, while the Cloud allows us to be more productive while mobile. Our work and personal lives are blending, and the Cloud helps us manage this new paradigm by enabling us to work from anywhere, and on any schedule. Cloud technologies allow small businesses to be more efficient and grow, just as the small businesses that are leading our country's growth are driving growth in Cloud.

When a technology gets tied up inextricably in powerful trends like this, that technology becomes core to our lives. And when a technology embeds itself in our lives, it thus achieves both staying power and profit potential. So even with the increased attention that Cloud technology has received this year, the impact that the Cloud currently has on our lives -- and the impact it will have as adoption continues to skyrocket -- is still considerably under-hyped.

Given the important role of the Cloud in our daily lives, the selection of a Cloud service is of critical importance. Features and performance are table stakes. As users, we need to consider the providers' track record on security and cross-platform availability. Is providing an excellent Cloud service the focus of the company, or is it simply a means to some other business ends?

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