BOSTON -- Monday night's reception at this week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference was called "An Evening in the Cloud."
Cute? Yes. But the question discussed was a big one: Could IT infrastructure as we know it disappear, sending information out of the enterprise to someone else's server farm to be accessed by an army of end users from their Web browsers?
Ask one of the big guys, Google Inc., and the answer you will get is a most definite "Yes." Ask a random startup at the conference and you'll get the same answer.
In a keynote speech yesterday, and later in an interview, Google Enterprise product manager Rishi Chandra said he believes all significant IT innovations in the next decade will happen through cloud computing.
To Chandra, who oversees products including Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar, cloud computing is "the idea of your data and computing power being posted on the Internet" and accessed through applications that are reached through a Web browser.
Google has banked its enterprise division on cloud computing, building a series of enterprise software applications first for consumers and then for enterprises. Many of them remain simple. Google Docs offers nowhere near the functionality of, say, Microsoft Word. Others, like Gmail, have become megahits in the consumer space and are starting to be picked up by businesses and universities.
Where Chandra sees the differentiator is in collaboration. He argued that the old way of working -- one person has one job and completes only his or her work -- is fading fast.
"Today the world is not about individual productivity," he said. "It is about team or group productivity."
In come cloud-based enterprise applications, allowing multiple users to create and share and collaborate on information and documents from anywhere and in any language. Chandra framed the need as a natural symptom of a global environment.
In his talk, Chandra also argued that the "economics of IT is changing" in such a way that makes cloud computing a good fit. He pointed to Gmail, which has a positive profit margin for Google, as evidence that the scalability offered by cloud-based applications could mean wonders for an IT bottom line.
"We believe we can get [Gmail] storage costs almost to zero because of the scalability that we're offering in the cloud," he said.
Security remains a major concern for IT, he said, and he offered few reassurances that would improve. In fact, Chandra's only real security pitch for cloud computing was that stolen laptops would no longer contain sensitive information on their hard drives. A conference attendee pointed out that isn't necessarily true if a user works with an offline option like the one offered by Google Docs, a point Chandra conceded.
Later, in an interview, Chandra said CIOs and IT managers will have to make the call on what information stays in the cloud and what comes down to a computer.
To close his keynote, Chandra noted that he doesn't believe everything will head into the cloud. But he restated his belief that all notable innovations will occur there.
The shift to cloud computing within enterprises is already under way, he said, with organizations heading there at different speeds.
And with different applications. Startups showing new products at the conference are looking into the cloud for just about anything. Take Bungee Labs in Orem, Utah, which in February launched a Software as a Service integrated development environment that allows developers to build, store and run Web applications in the cloud. Right now Bungee has "less than a handful" of customers, product marketing director Brad Hintze said. But the company has put everything on the chance that developers in IT will find it more productive to use Bungee's software to build and run applications for their business.
Like Chandra, Hintze proposed a world where scalability and reliability were no longer problems for IT to worry about. Security, he ceded, will leave people edgy. But he said he believes Bungee can prove itself there.
"We go out and we find customers who are early adopters, who are believers in the cloud vision … and we prove it out through them," Hintze said.
Chandra said, "It's about finding the opportunities within your organization that make the best opportunities to go into the cloud and proving the model. It's going to be a progression.
"It's going to take some companies 20 years to work through the issues, but the technology and the platform is so compelling that I believe we're going to work through the issues."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer