Internet access moves away from traditional server farms
BEIJING - From its humble origins in e-mail and search engines, cloud-computing applications have now spread to a wide range of industries, including the entertainment and corporate mobility sectors.
A beauty show, for example, may well have cloud computing behind it. Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB), a Hong Kong-based TV station, tried its luck by creating a smartphone-TV station interaction among its audience earlier this year. The company intended to launch a smartphone application that would enable audiences to vote for their favorite candidates in a beauty contest.
However, going beyond a remote control to a mobile phone was no easy task for the company. It would have had to invest "tens of millions of dollars" in "hardware, software and network infrastructure to set up a server farm to handle millions of votes within only the last few minutes of a TV show, and which would lie unused the rest of the time", said S.K. Cheong, TVB's broadcasting general manager.
The company then turned to Microsoft Corp, which backed the whole voting process with its cloud-computing system. TVB paid only for the computing resources for the duration of the show and managed to interact with audiences from 13 countries and regions that took the live broadcast of its beauty contest.
In the past, cloud computing belonged in the realm of consumer search engines, such as Google.com and Baidu.com, allowing users to access website databases. E-mail providers would save communications on their servers, allowing people remote access to their messages.
Over time, cloud computing spread to other consumer-oriented services, including photograph sharing, social networking sites, micro-blogging, and video games. All of those services required saving massive amounts of data at a remote location that could be retrieved on demand.
Revenues for the cloud-computing industry are forecast to reach 117.4 billion yuan ($18.34 billion) in 2013 from 16.7 billion yuan last year, according to research and consultancy company CCID Consulting Co Ltd. Cloud-based services, which are expected to grow significantly in forthcoming years, will be widely applied in sectors such as government, telecommunications, education and finance.
Spreading beyond consumer applications, many companies are also eyeing the business solutions potential of cloud computing in the corporate sector. In a bid to facilitate workplace communication, companies such as LifeSize Communications Inc, a subsidiary of computer-mouse maker Logitech International SA, are taking advantage of increasing computing power and high-speed Internet access to provide online video-conferencing services.
While low-cost video-conferencing services already exist for consumer purposes, LifeSize is hoping that demand for high-resolution, high-quality streaming will lure clients in the education, health, government and business sectors.
Cloud-computing service providers ensure their quality through data centers and servers, which often cost less to establish and operate compared with traditional brick-and-mortar storefronts or offices. LifeSize, which already has data centers in Singapore, Germany, and the United States, expects to establish a data center in China this year as a result of market growth that is forecast to be about 25 percent.
LifeSize and other application developers have also introduced smartphone software that enables video conferencing through the mobile Internet.
Traditional PC makers such as IBM Corp and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Corp have for years been shifting their business emphasis toward software development, especially cloud computing. In practice, using clouds to replace physical servers has become increasingly popular among enterprises and even governments.
HP, IBM and Amazon.com Inc provide data centers, software and applications to customers so that enterprises don't need to establish their own servers. When a company needs more storage space, instead of purchasing servers, the company can just buy more space at the datacenter to reduce costs.
Leo Apotheker, the former chief executive officer of HP, earlier this year announced the company's new slogan, "Everybody on", and new strategy - "Connectivity, Mobility and Cloud Computing".