How Cloud Computing Is Changing the World

A major shift in the way companies obtain software and computing capacity is under way as more companies tap into Web-based applications

At first, just a handful of employees at Sanmina-SCI (SANM) began using Google Apps (GOOG) for tasks like e-mail, document creation, and appointment scheduling. Now, just six months later, almost 1,000 employees of the electronics manufacturing company go online to use Google Apps in place of the comparable Microsoft (MSFT) tools. "We have project teams working on a global basis and to help them collaborate effectively, we use Google Apps," says Manesh Patel, chief information officer of Sanmina-SCI, a company with $10.7 billion in annual revenue. In the next three years, the number of Google Apps users may rise to 10,000, or about 25% of the total, Patel estimates.

San Jose (Calif.)-based Sanmina and Google are at the forefront of a fundamental shift in the way companies obtain software and computing capacity. A host of providers including Amazon (AMZN), (CRM), IBM (IBM), Oracle (ORCL), and Microsoft are helping corporate clients use the Internet to tap into everything from extra server space to software that helps manage customer relationships. Assigning these computing tasks to some remote location—rather than, say, a desktop computer, handheld machine, or a company's own servers—is referred to collectively as cloud computing (BusinessWeek, 4/24/08), and it's catching on across Corporate America.

The term "cloud computing" encompasses many areas of tech, including software as a service, a software distribution method pioneered by about a decade ago. It also includes newer avenues such as hardware as a service, a way to order storage and server capacity on demand from Amazon and others. What all these cloud computing services have in common, though, is that they're all delivered over the Internet, on demand, from massive data centers.

A Sea Change in Computing

Some analysts say cloud computing represents a sea change in the way computing is done in corporations. Merrill Lynch (MER) estimates that within the next five years, the annual global market for cloud computing will surge to $95 billion. In a May 2008 report, Merrill Lynch estimated that 12% of the worldwide software market would go to the cloud in that period.

Those vendors that can adjust their product lines to meet the needs of large cloud computing providers stand to profit. Companies like IBM, Dell (DELL), and Hewlett-Packard ( 2 3 Next Page

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