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Operating in a cloud

“There are ‘incredible economies of scale in cloud computing’ that make it a compelling alternative to traditional enterprise data centers.” According to the first article below, cloud computing represents a step change in the way businesses are likely to handle data or use software. Rather than having their own servers with their own programs, they use a centralised service or ‘public cloud’, provided by a company such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon Web Services. The cloud is accessed via the Internet or a dedicated network. It can thus be accessed not only from company premises but by mobile workers using tablets or other devices and thus makes telecommuting more cost effective.

There are considerable economies of scale in providing these computing services, with the minimum efficient scale considerably above the output of individual users. By accessing the cloud, individual users can benefit from the low average costs achieved by the cloud provider without having to invest in, and frequently update, the hardware and software themselves.

In the case of large companies, rather than using a public cloud, they can use a ‘private cloud’. This is hosted by the IT department in the company and achieves economies of scale at this level by removing the need for individual departments to purchase their own software and servers. Of course, the costs of providing the cloud is borne by the company itself and thus the benefits of lower up-front IT capital costs are reduced. This is clearly a less radical development and is really only an extension of the policy of many companies over the years of having centralised servers holding data and various software packages.

In autumn 2010, EMC Computer Systems commissioned economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (cebr) to quantify the full impact that cloud computing will have over the years ahead. According to the report, The Cloud Dividend:

The Cebr’s research calculates that €177.3 billion per year will be generated by 2015, if companies across Europe’s five largest economies continue to adopt cloud technology as expected.

The Cebr found that the annual economic benefit of cloud computing, by 2015, will be:
• France – €37.4 billion
• Germany – €49.6 billion
• Italy – €35.1 billion
• Spain – €25.2 billion
• UK – €30.0 billion

Will the ability of cloud computing to drive down the costs of IT mean that a new revolution is underway? Just how significant are the economies of scale and are they likely to grow as cloud providers themselves grow in size and experience? The following articles look at some of the issues.

Articles
Microsoft: ‘Incredible Economies Of Scale’ Await Cloud Users InformationWeek, Charles Babcock (11/5/11)
Cloud in 2011: A bright new dawn…or a shadow hanging over IT pros? The Register, Lucy Sherriff (28/5/11)
Bubbles and Golden Ages So Entrepreneurial, Nick Hughes (24/5/11)

Reports and information
The Cloud Dividend EMC2
Cloud Computing Wikipedia

Questions

  1. What specific economies of scale are achieved through cloud computing?
  2. Why might the minimum efficient scale of cloud computing services be above the level of output of many companies?
  3. What are the downsides to cloud computing?
  4. How would you set about assessing the statement that we are on the brink of a fundamental revolution in business computing?
  5. Why are customer-heavy sectors, such as financial services, utilities, governments, leisure and retail, expected to buy into the concept fastest?
  6. How can product life cycle analysis help to understand the stages in the adoption of cloud computing?
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