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Personal Cloud Computing for Road Warriors

I thought I would take a brief departure from my other missives to share some recent experiences. This entry is more geared for those of you that are road warriors. And it applies to the more personal use cases of cloud computing.

On a personal note, I thought I knew what it meant to travel extensively. I have been an elite flyer for 20 years. Most of that travel is with a single carrier or with their partner carriers. During all of those years, I have carried a cell phone and laptop computer.

Over the past year, the nature of my work has changed. Instead of focusing on one company I now work with multiple organizations on different projects and initiatives. Between the speaking engagements and consulting opportunities, my travel has increased markedly. As such, I have been schooled on what a “real” road warrior is. In April, I flew over 20,000 actual flight miles. That was 20,000 miles in one month! Those are actual flown miles and before bonuses, etc. At the time, I thought that was quite a bit of travel for a single month. Then May hit. In May, I flew over 24,000 actual flight miles. Many of you may know that flying internationally is a good way to rack up miles quickly. My 24,000+ miles in May were all domestic miles! Aside from May, my travel does consist of both domestic and international travel.

So, where is the part about cloud computing? Well, I needed to set the context first.

During those trips, I needed to stay connected. Over the past two months or so, I have experienced using an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro. I have also used a number of online services including Box.net and MobileMe. There are pros and cons about each of the platforms and services. This is not specific to Apple products. The same issues exist regardless of you are using Windows or Mac.

The key attribute is accessibility to data. Without access to data, using the applications on each of the platforms is useless. That should not be a surprise to anyone. However, when I pushed myself to try and use cloud-based services (ie: Box.net and MobileMe), I ran into some game stoppers. Specifically, they are not readily accessible everywhere. Ubiquitous connectivity is the challenge. It is not easy to ensure ubiquitous access wherever you go. The three challenging situations for connectivity were: The airplane, No (or cost-prohibitive) Wi-Fi and limited or no cellular coverage. The way I learned to deal with this today is to keep the data with me…encrypted of course. And keep an encrypted backup copy of it on a USB drive too…just in case.

Until we can ensure ubiquitous connectivity of the different platforms, it will be hard to for the road warrior to leverage. However, it is the road warrior that could be one of the best use cases too! For many of us, we are always looking to shed weight. No, I do not mean personal body weight. I mean luggage weight. Every pound counts. It would be great (read: ideal) if there were a single device that had all of the needed applications and data readily accessible. It would have connectivity to the outside world when needed and be in a light, easy to carry form factor. As an example, I had hoped the iPad would be a good replacement for my basic needs when traveling. Unfortunately, it came up short (very short) on the data side. The form factor is excellent. The applications are a mediocre, but manageable. The challenge was being able to ensure ready access to the needed data. That was a no-go. I tried a number of different ways, but still came up with significant limitations. And when you are on the road with limited alternatives, those limitations can be a killer. So, I am back to focusing on two tools: an iPhone and the MacBook Pro.

Bottom Line: Personal use of cloud computing for road warriors is challenging at best. Depending on your personal situation, results may vary. The potential, however, is huge. I did not even address the other aspects like data protection/ security if a device is lost. The key calls for action are 1) more ubiquitous access (Wi-Fi and high-speed cellular) and 2) ready access to data. These go hand-in-hand. Hopefully, we will see improvements in these areas in the short term. I, for one, would be willing to give it a go again.

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