Chic and Cheerful: Why Rackspace’s CTO is excited about the cloud

Nigel Beighton, UK CTO of Rackspace, is comparing cloud computing to a brand of perfume – specifically, one called Cheap & Chic Light Clouds by Moschino.

Chic and cheerfulIt’s an unusual comparison, admittedly. But “cheap” and “chic” are two terms Beighton feels are appropriate when it comes to describing the cloud – it is cost effective, and it has the capacity to serve millions or billions of people very quickly, then change equally quickly.

Beighton certainly knows a lot about the cloud, and has a varied background when it comes to technology, becoming part of the government’s programme to switch off analogue television and move over to digital after a spell as CTO of lastminute.com.

One area where he believes cloud computing is chic is in the internet of things (IoT). In order for the IoT to work, he says, devices need to be able to talk to each other. Classifications have to be agreed upon as to how to define these devices, which in turn needs to be put into context as to how they are being used. Which brings us to Beighton’s next unexpected comparison: socks. If a sock has an IoT device in it, he explains, it can tell the washing machine what cycle to run. The sock can also explain to the machine what it is made out of and what colour it is to avoid any potential mix-ups between whites and browns.

A trivial example, perhaps – but expanded to the wider scale of companies and governments, the potential pitfalls of differening opinions as to how to define products and what context they are used in become clearer. “You have to get people to agree classifications of what things are,” says Beighton. “That does not happen easily at all in either retail worlds or technology worlds.”

Beighton believes a huge amount of the technological answer to this problem lies in the cloud. One way in which it can help is through the use of big data, as it can handle large and hugely variable data types. “The cloud has to be the catalyst to enable all of this,” he says. “It is the only platform where you have consistency worldwide for billions of users. The IoT would have never happened if it had not been for the cloud revolution to give people that scale.”

People are not likely buy all their products from the same shop where they might have the same types of classifications, Beighton points out. They will buy things from different shops, all over the world. “How they all communicate, the cloud can deliver that now,” Beighton says. “It knows how to do global replication. The technology has been very cleverly worked out – how it can replicate information on a global basis, how it can serve it fast. If you look at the information we get on our mobile phone and apps quickly, it has worked out how to do that scale. And that is a very good thing.”

Tech entrepreneurs can now build an application and have it running in a matter of seconds through the cloud, says Beighton. And if it is popular, they have the potential to scale it to billions of people very quickly. He says: “Look at things like the Angry Birds game that came out of nowhere – suddenly it was on everyone’s phone. That is a great achievement that cloud has enabled. The cloud is a catalyst for huge change because it is allowing people to have access to markets they would not have before and allowing people to scale like they could never do before.”

And although Beighton does not think we are quite there yet with getting all our devices talking to each other, he is “looking forward to the idea that all of my clothes are able to talk to my washing machine so when I put it in there it knows the correct wash!”

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