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Personal Clouds, 2015 edition: Your Everything In One Place (blog post)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million. If you just want the gist of this post, check out Funambol’s new personal cloud video on YouTube, otherwise, read on.

In a recent movie comedy, an actor yelled, “Nobody understands the cloud”. Despite the movie’s fiction, the line rang true – few people ‘get’ the cloud. And while few people get it, this contrasts to the number of people who use the cloud, which is approaching two billion users.

When our company started talking about personal clouds five years ago, I will never forget what an industry analyst asked. He saw the vast potential of personal clouds, but his question was, “how do you explain them so people get it?”. The question was quite prescient.

Today, when I talk to people in the mobile industry about personal clouds, I start by stating what they are and are not. I say that a personal cloud stores key personal content for easy access on one’s devices and for sharing. It is not cloud infrastructure or cloud computing for business or IT people.

This momentarily perplexes people that personal clouds are different than what they expected, although once they see a demo, their usual response is, “Wow – I need this – how do I get it?”.

So how DO you explain personal clouds – so people ‘get it’?

For help, I consulted the source of enlightenment – Wikipedia – where it described a personal cloud as consisting of one of four types:

  1. Online cloud, such as Dropbox or Funambol
  2. NAS device cloud e.g. by a hard disk manufacturer
  3. Server device cloud i.e. an on-premises server that provides a private cloud for businesses
  4. Home-made cloud e.g. connecting a usb drive to a wifi router

Perhaps I am a stickler for words that mean what they say, but to me, the word ‘personal’ implies something for consumers than for business or IT people, which negates types 2-4 above. Wikipedia goes on to define the first type, online cloud, as (warning – severe jargon alert):

… the cloud computing model where online resources like software and data storage are made available over the Internet by a service provider. In an online cloud model, cloud services are provided in a virtualized ecosystem, are constructed using pooled, shared physical resources and are accessed by the Internet… Typically an individual or organization has little control over the ecosystem in which the online cloud is hosted and the core infrastructure is shared between many individuals and organizations. The data and application on the online cloud is logically segregated so that only those authorized are allowed access.

No wonder “Nobody understands the cloud!” If a person on the street were asked what that passage meant, they would immediately experience MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). Perhaps that definition is suitable for a dictionary although usually when I read something in Wikipedia, it makes things clearer.

So let’s try another way, by starting with the problem that personal clouds are meant to address.

For mobile consumers, their ‘digital life’ – pictures, videos, files, music and personal data that they frequently use such as contacts – is more complicated now due to mobile devices and online services. Their digital life has become more spread out, making it virtually impossible to access and manage, especially across multiple mobile devices.

Although some people think of Dropbox and Google Drive as personal clouds, this is a misconception. These are really cloud file storage services that are apples vs. oranges different than personal clouds.

Cloud file storage services started by syncing computer files via the cloud with smartphones and for sharing. Services such as Dropbox have adapted to try to appeal more to consumers, and some people use them for storing photos and slideshows. However, consumers have not embraced these services en masse as they do not simplify one’s digital life and are beyond the grasp of most people.

The crux of the matter is that for mobile consumers, file access on smartphones is not a big need, rather, they use phones for personal activities, like talking, texting, taking & viewing pictures & videos, social networking and playing music. They might access a file once in awhile, if someone sends an email attachment, but file use is the exception. This is why cloud file storage services are not the same as personal clouds and never will be.

Another misconception is that personal clouds are mobile backup. This has partially arisen as Apple iCloud, a popular service, mixes backup and making iPhone content such as pictures available via the cloud. Although these functions are related, this has led to confusion about personal clouds.

Personal clouds store the most important aspects of one’s digital life and make this content simply available on one’s devices. If you lose your phone or change devices, you can still access your digital life. A personal cloud does not backup everything on a phone such as its apps or settings.

Is a personal cloud or mobile backup more important? While both are useful, consider this – 5 or 10 years from now, what will be more valuable to you, seeing pictures from an old phone of friends and family, or having old apps? For most people, a personal cloud offers much more value. For mobile providers, a long-lasting, valuable service such as a personal cloud equates to more stickiness and customer loyalty.

If this last bit gave you a case of MEGO, let’s end by saying that a personal cloud is ‘your everything in one place’. Hopefully, this helps more people ‘get’ the cloud, but if not, check out that new video. If you are a hands-on person, you can try it for free @

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