I've just seen 10% of the PC biz disappear into the cloud

The future's bright – just not for box-shifters

Opinion The days of the desktop computer look to be numbered.

According to IDC, worldwide shipments of desktop systems fell 10 per cent in 2013, the biggest decline in the platform's history. IDC also predicts that for the first time tablets will outsell laptops and in fact the entire PC market by 2015.

To borrow IDC’s terminology, this is a clear sign that we are moving from the "second platform" of computing – one typified by desktop PCs, local area networks and email – to the "third platform": that of cloud computing, mobile devices, social networking and Big Data.

In the enterprise it is now well-documented that this shift has been brought about by the cost and efficiency benefits of the new computing paradigm on one hand, and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend on the other.

Bring your Own PC Killer

As we embrace a new age of technology, the pull from employees to use more consumer-oriented technology and services has been equal to the push from the IT department and business unit managers looking for better ways of working.

Today the average worker wants and expects to be able to consume data anywhere, at any time, on any device and – if at all possible – for free. This is playing a major role in the move towards the third platform of computing.

The laptop will still be with us for some time, partly because it fits the mobility requirements of the modern corporate and home user. But there can be no denying that the nature of endpoint devices is changing. In the near future it is likely that these devices will become completely clientless – "dumb" platforms with no computing power of their own, beyond what is needed to drive a mobile internet connection. In this scenario all compute and storage activity would take place in the cloud. The device is relegated to a mere access medium.

This will naturally have a huge impact on resellers, notably those that have centred their businesses on hardware sales. User devices are undergoing a process of commoditisation where what you connect with is far less important than what you connect to.

Differentiation in the future will no longer come from being able to offer the latest "must have device" from electronics companies, but will lie in being able to offer the fastest, most flexible and complete cloud package. Compute and storage power will still matter, but it will be the compute and storage power supporting the private, public or hybrid cloud rather than that in the device.

To stay relevant, hardware resellers will need to make a move into cloud in some way shape or form. We will increasingly see resellers evolve their propositions to either offer hardware services to cloud service providers, or to become service providers themselves.

If they do not choose one of these paths, resellers will need to become cloud brokers, willing to assess cloud services on behalf of their customers, and partner with the right service provider to meet their client’s needs.

Those resellers that evolve into service providers will need vendors and distributors that can provide elastic web-scale private cloud infrastructure that delivers the simplicity and low cost of the public cloud. This will make it relatively easy for them to transform their business models and head into what will be in many cases highly unfamiliar territory. In fact, the availability of simple, secure and cost-effective cloud infrastructures that resellers can trust will become vital to future channel success.

The way people want to consume data, coupled with a massive shift to cloud computing, is fundamentally changing the IT landscape. Hardware and the devices we use within the enterprise will become much less important to application performance than the underlying cloud infrastructure.

Those resellers still focused on differentiation through the on-premises equipment they offer need to start making new plans for the future. ®

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