Confessions of a Cloud Road Warrior: Update 2

Last year, I took a slight departure to discuss the opportunities and challenges that cloud computing presents to the road warrior. Almost a year later, it is time to update the results.

Since my last posting, I have traveled throughout the US and Asia. My rate of travel has continued at a strong pace. You know you are traveling quite a bit when the pilot is sending you handwritten notes thanking you for your patronage. Another common indicator is the hotel front desk recognizing you as you walk up. One of these days, I will add up the number of nights I spend in hotels. However, it may be easier to count the number of nights I was actually home.

During that time, my arsenal of technology has varied. I used to travel with a 15” MacBook Pro and an iPhone 3GS. Just prior to my last missive, I started using an Apple iPad 3G. Today, the MacBook Pro has been replaced with a 13” MacBook Air. Interestingly, the combined weight of the iPad and MacBook Air is still lighter than the 15” MacBook Pro.

Ideally, I would prefer to only travel with the iPad and iPhone. And on several of my trips, that is exactly what I did. Talk about traveling lightly! My only hesitation is when I need to create quite a bit of content. The iPad is a great device for content consumption. Content creation is still a clumsy process on the iPad. The exception is email and text documents.

Over the past 10 months or so, the core challenges noted in my first posting still exist. It is all about data access. Yes, there are ways to store data online securely. Yes, there are ways to access data remotely using the iPad (or laptop). However, the challenge is getting connected wherever I go.

From anecdotal experience, access in hotels, airports and airplanes has not improved much. Until this is resolved, cloud computing will continue to present challenges for road warriors. Here are some examples:

Japan: Last year, I took two trips to Japan. I did my research and found that they had free Internet connectivity throughout the hotel. Great! This would be my opportunity to travel overseas with only my iPad and iPhone. The trip through airport security was a breeze. The iPad does not require removal for security screening like laptops. The long battery life provided more than adequate time for two movies, a ton of emails, some other work and a few games. Nice! I checked into the hotel and immediately found the free Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby. Great! I proceeded up to my room and couldn’t locate the signal. I called down to the front desk and was politely informed that only wired access was available in the room. Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby. This was inconvenient when your device only has Wi-Fi access. Over the course of the two trips, I found quiet places to hang out while connecting, downloading, uploading and conversing via Skype.

Airports: Over the years, I have spent plenty of time in the United Red Carpet Club lounges. It offers a relaxing place much quieter than the hustle and bustle of the airport terminal. It also provides free Wi-Fi access. The challenge is when you are in an airport without a Red Carpet Club. Some airports are moving to free Wi-Fi in the terminals. But many still charge $12-15/day to connect. Alternatively, with the iPad 3G, I pay $25/ month and do not have to worry about where I am or if there is free Wi-Fi. The built-in 3G works for the iPad, but the laptop requires an external 3G card to support wireless everywhere. Plus, the laptop just is not convenient to whip out and use anywhere.

Airplanes: I had hoped that Wi-Fi access on aircraft would have improved since my last posting. Truth be told, I typically only fly United Airlines, so my scope is limited. United does offer Wi-Fi on their P.S. flights between SFO-JFK and LAX-JFK. While some carriers have offered Wi-Fi from the start, United is planning to equip more of its planes with Wi-Fi starting in 2012. In all cases, there is a cost to use the Wi-Fi on aircraft.

Hotels: Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi today. However, the performance can get fairly slow during the evening rush and morning times. During the evenings, I have experienced Hotel Wi-Fi with such poor performance that I had to just work off-line.

Aside from connectivity woes, I still find that cloud presents opportunities for both road warriors and businesses alike. Considering the amount I travel, I still prefer to travel as light as possible. The advent of cloud and tools like the iPad present a glimpse of what is to come. Without cloud-based options, my productivity would be severely limited…unless I had the laptop in tow.

Bottom Line: The back-end options for cloud computing have advanced in many ways over the past year. While the end-user options have not progressed as quickly, one can only expect to see improvements in the near term.

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