Will Windows Azure Fatten Your Telecom Expenses With Thin Client Thinking?

Every few years, software and hardware manufacturers team up to push thin client computing on consumers. Whenever this happens it reminds me of the 90s movie Singles, where one character, pushing his vision for luxury subways for Seattle, ignores the simple truth that keeps getting thrown in his face: “People like their cars.” People like their fat-client, autonomous PCs and devices, too. Now, thanks to the rise of high speed mobile data, Microsoft and others are sounding the call to thin clients again under the guise of “cloud computing.” Windows Azure is one of several such initiatives that promise flexibility and convenience . . . for a price.

The tricky part is the software as a service model built into Azure and other offerings. Do you really want to rent your office productivity software instead of buy it? Do you trust your connection enough to rely on external hosting for any sizable chunk of data? The fact is that you might now, since cell phones and push email have trained us to accept Internet-based services that boost the meager power of mobile devices. On the other hand, it’s yet another item on your bill, and you’ve got to trust that your provider’s giving you a secure, reliable set of services.

From a telecom expense management perspective I think it’ll all come down to a race between hardware and software. If smartphones experience explosive progress in local storage and processing there won’t be much need to rent from the “cloud” (or laptops, for that matter – they’ll probably converge). On the other hand, if software gets big enough or people learn to depend on ubiquitous document sharing they’ll need to plug into the services network. If these start to get hosted over wide-area networks providers will bundle and bill for them. Being telecom companhies, they’ll make billing errors – and we’ll catch them.