Many of us use 'cloud computing' every day without even realising it. Web-based e mail and social media sites such as Facebook and Spotify all use the technology to store data such as pictures, videos and text files. But what exactly is 'the cloud'? Even many people who have heard of the concept aren't always sure about what it involves.
Cloud computing relies on sharing computing resources rather than having local servers or personal devices to handle applications. In cloud computing, the word cloud (also phrased as "the cloud") is used as a metaphor for "the Internet," so the phrase cloud computing actually means "a type of Internet-based computing," where different services - such as servers, storage and applications - are delivered to an organisation's computers and devices through the Internet. The files are stored in massive data centres containing hundreds of servers and storage systems that are compatible with nearly all computer software. When you wish to access your information, you simply connect to the 'cloud' from your PC, smartphone or tablet.
The advantages are numerous. Users for example don't have to buy or maintain expensive servers and data-storage systems. For corporations, the technology helps them lower their costs by reducing the need for in-house IT support and extra office space.
The European Commission's Digital Agenda is the EU's strategy to help digital technologies, including the internet, to deliver sustainable economic growth. The reduction in the cost and complexity of mobile application development using cloud technologies is one of the objectives of the European Commission. The 4.45M Mobicloud project, co-funded under the ICT Policy Support Programme (PSP) Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), aims to do just that.
The project's objective is to stimulate the provision of new mobile services in the cloud and help support the emergence of a European ecosystem of mobile cloud application developers. With MobiCloud, it will become feasible for smaller companies, and not only global enterprise resource planning vendors, to quickly develop and market mobile extensions of their existing business applications. The Commission therefore aims to enable and facilitate faster adoption of cloud computing throughout all sectors of the economy. This will have the knock-on effect of cutting ICT costs, and boosting productivity, growth and jobs when combined with new digital business practices.
MobiCloud will become an online technology marketplace where end-users, mobile developers, application vendors, system integrators and cloud service providers can collaborate to develop end-to-end solutions with high return on investment (ROI). This collaborative platform will develop, deploy and manage mobile cloud applications for business-critical scenarios such as public transport, field service or construction. Its initial demonstration scenarios focus on industries where collaborative mobile applications can support a more efficient, greener organisation. It provides a composite screen (mobile mash-up) that aggregates data from various corporate IT systems. Depending on context (location, role, skill set, available colleagues, etc.) the application displays different services which react in real-time to changes (work orders, fault reports, alerts).
Despite its ubiquity, cloud computing is at an early stage. As analyst firm Gartner puts it: "Many factors, including advances in cloud, mobile, information and social technologies, change how applications can be built and the value they can deliver to the enterprise. To keep their enterprises competitive, application development leaders must continuously embrace new technologies and disciplines." Through the Mobicloud project, this is exactly what Europe is doing.