WASHINGTON - When Steve Ballmer said at the World Wide Partner Conference here on July 14 that he believes that the future of cloud computing includes rich clients, he may have been echoing the concerns of technology executives in industries where access to computing resources is critical. The problem with the cloud as a place for storage or for compute resources is that it's only really useful if you can absolutely, positively, depend on it being there. Problem is, you can't.
Yes, I know that Google is pushing a model for enterprise computing that bases everything in the cloud. Some of its applications work well there, and they do provide the flexibility so that you can reach them from nearly anywhere. But the real question for many companies isn't that. The real question is whether you can always reach those applications.
Perhaps there will come a day when access to the internet is totally constant. But that day hasn't come yet, any more than access to electricity has come to every company, all the time. The idea of electricity as a public utility has been around since the late 19th century, but even with over 125 years of debugging, big companies, and companies with critical needs to stay operational still have a generator installed out behind the building somewhere. Smaller companies, including mine, have the same issue, and while the generators are smaller, they're still there.
So if something as basic as electricity or even running water can't be guaranteed, why assume that access to the cloud is a sure thing? In fact, you can't. And with a century less time for debugging, access to the cloud is a lot less sure than is access to electricity or water. So what does this have to do with Microsoft's assertion that rich clients are where the future lies?
The fact is that you can't depend on access to the cloud at a high enough level of reliability to work for many enterprises. Companies can't just stop operating and take a day off if they can't reach Google's applications, regardless of the reason. It doesn't matter if the reason is that Gmail is down; or that the cloud based applications are down; or the Internet is being flaky; or that there's a bad router somewhere between you and your cloud provider. All that matters is that you can't reach the tools you need to do your work.