Will Apple's iCloud do for cloud computing what iTunes did for music downloads?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

This week sees the arrival of the third annual Cloud Computing World Forum in London.

This week sees the arrival of the third annual Cloud Computing World Forum in London.

This is rather a fitting time for the event to be held, particularly with Apple making its debut into the cloud world a few weeks ago. While Apple will not be at the event, its impact upon ‘the cloud' could be pretty far reaching in terms of public awareness.

Launched a few weeks ago, according to Apple, the iCloud offers an entire backup of a user's device of files and apps to the cloud so that it is accessible from an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or desktop. It also does not require any syncing to keep email, contacts and calendars up to date and new users get 5GB of free storage upon signing up.

It is probably fair to say that many businesses will not be using this and that Apple has released it as a consumer-facing technology. While 5GB is not to be sniffed at and for file storage it is more than reasonable, the choice to outsource and use a service provider would require more storage than this. What Apple has done is it has drawn attention to the sector in the way that it did with music downloads (iTunes), smartphones (iPhone) and tablets (iPad).

I asked Ed Dixon, director of enterprise services at Cobweb, what he thought of the announcement and if he thought it would generate more public interest in cloud computing.

He said: “Apple's recent iCloud announcement will no doubt generate greater public interest in cloud computing. However, there is an increased security concern associated with consumer-based cloud services compared to business-to-business models, so Apple will need to be mindful of this.

“This element of the unknown will produce a level of risk that Apple will have to manage. The IT industry only has to look at recent Sony and Amazon security breaches to see the concerns currently associated with cloud solutions. There is also potential enterprise risk as the line between personal and corporate device use blurs due to future adoptions to the Apple iCloud.”

Costin G. Raiu, director of the global research and analysis team at Kaspersky Lab, called the launch of iCloud for developers the beginning of ‘the battle for domination in the market of cloud-centric OS'.

He pointed to the launch of iOS5, saying it meets with Google and Microsoft by designing and planning to deploy an operating system that is fully integrated with the cloud, particularly as Steve Jobs' enthusiasm is for the creation of an OS that does not rely on local file system storage.

Raiu said: “Interestingly, Apple has chosen a different path from Google here: while Google, with Chrome OS, is trying to push users into using their cloud storage, iCloud is presented as an added feature, which can be purchased separately from the hardware.

“So, what does this mean from a security point of view? Basically, we are talking about the same class of risks as the Chrome OS. All your digital content might be available to anyone who knows your password. I believe it's completely reckless nowadays to provide such a service without two-factor authentication, which makes it prone to basic data theft techniques.

“Of course, even if security is indeed improved through multi-factor authentication methods, we are still faced with the issue that all the data is available on the cloud, in one place. Just as Sony recently learned, the cloud is not always impenetrable, its fundamental nature makes it an interesting target for cyber criminals and no doubt it will continue to be a focus for them.”

Writing on the channelnomics.com website, analyst Larry Walsh said that while Apple is not looking to take a bite out of the enterprise, what it does in the cloud may change the way enterprises and the channel approach the cloud. He also believed that Apple's entry into cloud computing will not impact the channel.

He said: “Apple's strategy is purely aimed at the consumer market. It's about making all those consumer devices work better. Most Apple users have more than one device and each device has variable storage capacity, so giving them a seamless cloud resource from which to draw files will make them more practical for users.

“For Apple, its cloud service will provide a recurring revenue stream and decrease the cost of its devices. If storage is in the cloud, there's little need for big, expensive embedded drives.

“Some enterprise users will take advantage of this service. Solution providers have become quite adept at engineering business solutions with Apple consumer products. Some solution providers are using the popularity of Apple's products to open enterprise deals, delivering Apple products integrated with virtualisation software to give users access to backend business resources."

A separate issue may prevent Apple from getting this off the ground, with reports emerging that iCloud Communications had filed a lawsuit against Apple. It alleged that Apple had infringed on its trademark and called for an injunction that would block Apple from launching or promoting the iCloud service.

Is this something business can work with? Effectively if you use it as an FTP site for storage then it may be worth looking at, alternatively enterprise-level options do exist for a reason.

So in short, it seems that Apple may not be about to change the world with iCloud, as this consumer-facing development is not suitable for business. A consumer-facing technology not being compatible with business, now where have we heard of that before?

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