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The “Personal Cloud” Concept

As information technologies become more complex and widespread consultants find it useful to articulate new labels for describing novel phenomena. The latest example is the widespread use of the “personal cloud” buzzword.  It describes what will be displacing what has heretofore been the primary focus of computing, which is the deployment of desktop personal computers. In the new era of “post personal computer” computing, the Gartner firm has started promoting the concept of the “personal cloud” to describe what is now becoming adopted at a rapid pace as new approach to computing.

There is a radical difference between desktop computing using stand-alone personal computers and what can be now found in cloud-based networks that will support the highly diverse computing needs of a user population. Differences are technological, economic as well as behavioral. Migrating from reliance on desktop personal computers to personal cloud computing represents a radical change. It cannot be achieved through small incremental improvements. It requires an overhaul in the architecture and the organization how systems are designed and then delivered.

The idea of cloud computing is rooted in the technology of virtualization. The evolution of personal computing was based on migration of information processing from the central mainframe computer into the hands of individual users through the desktop computer. The personal cloud is reversing this trend. As the processing power of billions of personal desktop computers expands, the utilization of their capabilities is diminishing. Only a part of the computer logic is now dedicated to applications through increased access of computer services directly from the Internet. The overwhelming majority of desktop computing is dedicated to the processing of codes that manage the operating system, to the manipulation of databases and to the organization of communications. As security vulnerabilities are mounting, much of the power computing is dedicated to security assurance. The computer that is now cabled to sit on the desktop is increasingly inadequate as users shift to mobile computing.

Virtualization of computing makes it possible to create pools of server-based central computing power that can share computing cycles for thousands of individual desktop machines. Virtualization allows for the pooling of data storage to obtain better utilization of capacity. Virtualization combines expensive communication service to serve a cluster of virtual computers and thereby reduces the exposure to security risks. Virtualization detaches local desktop hardware from having to maintain the large overhead of operating systems. Virtualization makes it possible to take advantage of economies of scale of the combined capacity of hundred thousands of central servers while enabling fail-overs and automated back-up. Virtualization can deliver exceptionally high levels of service reliability. Though separation of applications the underlying infrastructure, it is possible to create data processing utilities that deliver a standard computing environment that is independent from what the user needs. In this way, the user gains freedom to process applications using any computing device from any location. The central means for access to computing is not any more the dedicated personal computer, but access to the personal cloud that can be available anywhere, any time and from any device.

The personal cloud makes it possible to gain computing services from consumer-grade devices available at rapidly decreasing competitive prices. Such devices will browser-connect to the cloud without requiring expensive systems integration efforts. They depend on the network infrastructure, needs only simplified browser software for application services. This arrangement greatly reduces security risks since the user’s smartphone or tablet does not store operational code that is the prime source of vulnerability. All such code is stored on servers, where it can be protected with much greater competence.

The cheap cost of the disposable and rapidly obsolescent user devices can be matched with the large capital cost of cloud computing centers where all of the processing and communication takes place. The central facilities can be then constructed to have low depreciation rates because engineering focus can now concentrate on primarily on the delivery of commodity machine cycles. The personal cloud device can be set up for receipt of user charges based on computing usage, on a per use basis.

The feature rich desktop computer locks users into fixed cost economics. The personal computer user must be then fitted into custom-designs that are neither interoperable nor subject to transplantation into another environment. In contrast, if the cloud is constructed using open source application interfaces the cloud customer can take advantage of competitive offerings from a variety of commercial cloud services, each offering a diversity of pricing plans and a variety of services. Such an arrangement can be also designed as a hybrid model.

The owners of personal clouds will have access to a variety of public and private cloud services. In a typical environment the private cloud will contain proprietary and certainly classified computing services. Depending on security and pricing terms, customers can the shop for applications from a vast collection of ready-to-use applications, usually available for a fixed price, inclusive of maintenance. There will be no cost of integration, whereas the user of a personal computer will have to expend money for custom-adaptation of every application into a uniquely defined computing architecture.  In the personal cloud it is possible to rapidly swap applications for upgrades provided that the application interfaces are reasonably constructed as open source protocols. In contrast, owning a personal computer will always require incurring costs for making changes for any functionality.

The dependency on personal computing has pushed developers to organize projects that required building increasing complexity and size into any design. Constructing a project, which assures a total interdependency between desktop, laptop, server, database and network computers imposes rising costs of synchronization and integration for the entire effort. Consequently the size of individual projects keeps growing, the implementation schedules are elongating and the gap between original requirements and what is delivered is growing until much that was promised and what is ultimately delivered makes much of the effort obsolete.

The personal cloud avoids the dependency on large projects. For instance, the database storage pool can be constructed as a utility service that can have an implementation schedule that can be measured in decades. The server computer processing pool can proceed on schedule that requires only a few years, whereas the construction of local applications can proceed at a pace of only a few days.

The last decade has seen a rapid pace of evolution in computing. We are seeing orders of magnitude changes. Firms are moving from reliance on hours of response time to results in minutes and even seconds. Enterprises need to process instantly billions of transactions that require not only internal data but also integration with external sources.

The client-server mode, which depended on billions of desktop computers to assist in the processing of local work, has outgrown its utility. The movement towards the “post personal computer” era has already begun. It places reliance on pooled cloud computing services, which are accessible through a person’s own private cloud. The private cloud can be then defined as access privileges to a collection of cloud services.

In its network form the personal cloud represents a shift of knowledge based on the ownership of assets to the ability to have universal access to everything that is available. The personal cloud will endow everyone with the potential of access to knowledge that hitherto has remained unreachable.

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