The hype on the cloud is just as loud as the hype on mobile computing. Both appear to be gold rush destinations for vendors seeking to capitalize on all the stuff that buyers allegedly can't get enough of. But if you look at the numbers, you see that mobile is where the money is being made, while the entire cloud market pulls in about 1 or 2 percent of what mobile does.
It seems to me that the cloud needs to be rescued, and perhaps mobile à la iPad, iPhone, and Android is the technology to do it.
The numbers overwhelmingly point to mobile's bulging bank account
But first, let me detail the numbers. Cloud services brought in about $3 billion in 2010 from its three main components: infrastructure (IaaS), platform (PaaS), and software (SaaS) offerings. In IaaS, Amazon.com's Amazon Web Services (AWS) made about $500 million in 2010, and Rackspace -- the No. 2 IaaS provider -- raked in about $100 million. SaaS did better: Salesforce.com pulled in $1.3 billion in 2010, with the other four major SaaS providers -- NetSuite, RightNow, SuccessFactors, and Taleo -- earning about $200 million each. Revenues for PaaS offerings -- exemplified by Salesforce.com's Force.com and Microsoft's Azure -- aren't broken out but are widely believed to be minuscule.
I'm not counting sales of so-called private cloud technology, as that means pretty much anything in a data center, which covers most of what IT's expenditures ($1.5 trillion on tech last year). Whether you think a private cloud is a real cloud or just marketing buzz for the same old server, storage, and network gear (using virtualization, of course!), it's money that IT would be spending anyhow. Even if you decide that virtualization spend should be counted as cloud spend, that adds "only" about $5 billion to the cloud total, bringing it to $8 billion.
Now to some real money: Mobile technology brought in $173 billion in 2010 from its major sources: $62 billion in 3G data plans, $99 billion in smartphone sales ($29 billion to Apple, $20 billion to Nokia, $15 billion to Research in Motion, and $9 billion to Samsung), $10 billion in tablet sales (almost all iPads last year), and $2 billion in app sales ($1.7 billion to Apple alone). Note that I'm not including iTunes and similar music, book, and video sales via mobile devices, as they can be accessed on both PCs and mobile devices. If you're curious, they added up to $8 billion, with $4.1 billion going to Apple and $3.3 billion going to Amazon.com, including for the Kindle hardware.
How the cloud can hitch itself to the mobile bandwagon
As these numbers show, when you look at the whole mobile market, the cloud appears downright sickly as a business. Maybe mobile can help. After all, what other computing platform is more dependent on the cloud concept than mobile?
Let's start with the obvious: storage. Although mobile devices have local storage, they're not anywhere near as capacious as PCs -- and a lot of that space is taken up by all your music. Mobile users should be helping drive the cloud storage business, to companies such as Box.net and Dropbox.
On the consumer side, Google is moving in that direction as well for its Music Beta service, and rumors are rampant that Apple plans an iCloud service that will merge its MobileMe storage/collaboration service with a new iTunes-in-the-ether service. In the not too distant future, you may have most of your data living on a personal storage cloud and a business storage cloud service for access anywhere by pretty much any computer or mobile device. Here's an opportunity for an Amazon.com to grow its IaaS business.