"We're moving to the Cloud."
- Every manager since 2011.
The Cloud inspires visions of blue horizons and fluffy white clouds, but what does it really mean?
Rather than investing a significant amount of upfront capital and maintenance for server equipment, you can pay somebody else a handsome monthly fee to do that for you. All of your data is stored on some infrastructure somewhere in the world, with access from anywhere you can get an internet connection.
Sounds insecure? For a lot of companies, the idea of valuable company information being stored on some server somewhere in the world is unacceptable. But there is one major advantage to the "The Cloud" infrastructure, arguably the reason for its success: access-anywhere.
"But I can VPN into my office network from anywhere! Isn't that the same thing?"
Sure, but you're still using that archaic software to access your customer database, aren't you? The real breakthrough with cloud technology is that the infrastructure inherently requires applications are built with collaboration in mind. Any number of users could log on and try to edit one resource at the same time. Therefore the applications must deal with this - an entire resource can't be locked away while one user edits it.
Google gets this. Their Google Documents application allows any number of users to log on and edit a document or spreadsheet, and each user can see other users' cursors as they type. True real-time collaboration - parallel development.
The concept of the Cloud has been gaining traction rapidly over the past few years, and there are cloud applications for many common office duties - Word Processing, Spreadsheets, CRM, Accounting, the list goes on. But there is one area which until now seems almost untouched: Specialist Engineering Applications.
Almost all engineering involves collaboration and team-work. Yet the tools we put up with are far from considerate of this fact. Software engineers have version control. But the rest of us deal with tools that presume we're a lone engineer building an entire project in a little room.
Not to suggest that every application should store their data on some anonymous server somewhere in the Nevada desert, but engineering applications could learn a thing or two from cloud applications. It may just be the future of engineering design.