How cloud computing has killed the PC

It looks like the end for the PC. Unlike the Dinosaurs the PC will not just vanish from the face of the Earth – they will just stop being replaced and gradually die out to be spotted on the desks of die-hard antiquarians and IT folk who like to tinker with the insides of anything that can be opened.

I can even date when this process began. It was the day, the 18th August to be precise, when HP announced it had bought UK software firm Autonomy for £7.1bn then added, almost as an afterthought that it was considering selling its personal systems group, which includes the world’s biggest PC-making business, and that it will discontinue its webOS devices.

HP has some very complex problems to solve and they have gone through some bad times but this decision is about more than surviving bad times and facing the commoditisation of the PC squarely in the face.

It’s about realising that the major choice a consumer or a corporate has now is not about hardware. The days when buying the correct IT infrastructure are now long gone – today it’s about recognising the realities of mobile computing.

Mobile computing isn’t about providing your staff with the best laptop, smartphone and tablet to keep them productive on the road – the hardware is now so reliable that the choice is often left to the users – something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

How on Earth would they be able to choose the most reliable laptop? Now a consumer can walk into any retail park and buy a tablet computer with no moving parts that will last until it is lost or discarded.

Many young people are doing much of their computing on their smartphones where the choice of hardware is, once again, almost irrelevant. Young people live their lives on the move from home to school to University to work and they want devices they don’t have to pack into a car to lug around.

They also use the Cloud instinctively – what is iTunes but a Cloud providing music. The popularity of web mail means few youngsters have ever configured a Microsoft Outlook client.

The only thing stopping most businesses moving to tablets is purely to do with their culture and environments. We are heading for devices that will run almost exclusively over the internet. I am writing this piece on a tablet connected to the internet using my virtual desktop. I don’t even know where my old laptop is now.

Most people are now happy to use email banking and other services via browser and while it took some time for people to become comfortable with banking online they have taken to it eventually as they discover it is safe. What we are seeing is the rapid expansion of available services with more traditional pcs being replaced by the tablet form and laptops taking over the arena of the PC.

Most users will be happy with a screen and internet access, and the ability to buy or use applications that provide the services they need, without the need for bulky operating systems.

The benefits of Cloud Computing for businesses are now so compelling that any new business setting up would be very unlikely to provide its employees the internal IT infrastructure that was typical only a few years ago.

Why force upon yourself the overheads of PCs which have a cost of ownership, need repairs often because of the number of moving parts and a full-time staff to keep them up to date and running? No business person would do it unless they had compelling reasons.

The Cloud is greener. Cloud data centres use virtualisation which cuts down the number of servers needed and the power consumption goes down because new servers don’t even have fans inside them. HP is merely following example set by IBM when it dropped out of the hardware market to concentrate on services.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft and the other PC-centric vendors adapt to the new world of the Cloud. For the moment the consumer (user) is in control, something the old PC departments of corporates fought fiercely against. But like the Dinosaurs they lost the battle.

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Constantine Galonis has worked in the IT industry since 1980. He received an HND in Computer Science from Southbank Polytechnic. He has a programming background in Algol and APL. He worked for Motor Oil Hellas Greece 1988 to 1991 initially in mainframe system databases before setting up their first PC support department. He transferred to Varnima UK to become IT manager for the UK sites and ran their support and infrastructure until 1996. Since 1996 until the present he has run the Art of Computing limited an IT Consultancy specialising in server based solutions and virtualisation. In 2009 he founded CirrusStratus for Cloud Hosted solutions. He is a specialist in Vmware, Vsphere, Citrix, IBM Sans storage and X-series and I-Series.