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Tectonic Shifts #03: Cloud Computing

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Tectonic Shifts is a series of articles on the mega trends that will shape our digital future for years (if not decades) to come.

tl;dr (Executive Summary)

Cloud Computing can make your company’s life easier by allowing you to focus on building your service/product rather than mucking around with IT infrastructure – at least that’s the main motivator for embracing the Cloud. By renting on-demand computing power rather than owning server hardware, you can now access and pay processing power on demand at every level of the technology stack. On the most basic level it means virtualized server power (of course all of this still runs very much on physical infrastructure). The key term to remember is “as a Service”, as in Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Plaform (PaaS) and Application/Software (SaaS). That moment when you check your Gmail account from your phone, or share a photo on Dropbox? You’re using Cloud services right there.

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How to see through the cloud, translated

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Over on the Mozilla Webmaker site, James Bridle wrote a brilliant piece that explains in very simple terms how to get a better understanding of the web at the most basic level – where the cables and buildings are located, and where our data travels: How to see through the cloud. It’s fantastic!

And since the whole point of the Webmaker project is to allow for quick and easy remixing – and the learning process associated with it – I took the liberty to translate it to German.

We talk about the cloud all the time, the seemingly ephemeral, almost magical place where our data lives and thrives. But only when the system fails and something doesn’t work do we notice that there’s a brick-and-mortar infrastructure that everything runs on. Cables, servers, concrete buildings. Heck, even my mom asked me about the cloud a few weeks ago, and what it looks like.

Well, thanks to James everyone can now just poke around the web and get a better understanding on where the cloud really lives, and how our data travels down the cables hopping from data center to data center.

You can find my translation over on the Webmaker site: Die Cloud durchschauen.

As a side note, if you want to learn in a playful, really not threatening way about how the web works, please go check out Mozilla Webmaker. It’s a fantastic resource and very, very simple to get into.

startup tools for collaboration and mobility

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Being a bit of a geek, I’m always interested in which tools & techniques people use to go about their things. So it’s only fair I also share mine. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we’ve been organizing our company. Keep in mind, what works for our agency of three, Third Wave, may or may not work in your context.

For us, collaboration and mobility are key requirements, so besides a few exceptions working exclusively local isn’t really an option.

Experiment & share your experiences!

Email: Nothing beats Google Mail at this point. Period. Google Apps allow you to use Gmail with your own domain.

Project management: That’s a much more tricky one, as different needs and preferences both inside and outside the company play a role. We’re betting on Basecamp, the web-based project management tool by 37Signals. It’s relatively light-weight, has a fairly comprehensive UI and it’s heavily based on email, which makes it easy to use even when you’re on your phone or extremely low bandwidth (think train rides). This also makes it easier for clients to get involved if they choose to. Hands down the only annoying thing I found so far is that you sometimes have to change through several information layers when moving from one project to another – but it’s doable.

Contact management: Again, we’re going with 37 Signal’s Highrise. Not sure how happy I am with this solution yet. Then again, I don’t know anything better either, so there you go.

Chat & ongoing discussions: There’s always some things that require some discussion, so you need some kind of chat. Skype is very powerful, but also quite invasive. For good measure we’ve been using the third 37Signals product, Campfire. Not all that powerful, but it does the job. Of all the 37Signals tools we use, this is the first I’d give up, but it’s really ok.

Fluid: With all these browser-based services, the tab overkill gets even worse, so you might want to pull some of them out of the browser and into their own app. Fluid for Mac does just that. Make sure to learn how to work the settings and customize them to your needs. If you don’t it’s the software from hell, but once it works it’s a charm.

Phone: Still looking for the best Voip solution, particularly since all of us will be traveling a lot. So far, we’re old school: landline and cell phone, occasionally a Skype call.

Twitter: We have a shared Twitter account (@thirdwaveberlin), but everybody uses their own preferred tool to manage that one.

Files: Dropbox can be very useful in sharing larger files while working on a project.

No big surprises in the whole thing I guess. Always keep in mind that certain projects have security requirements that may not be met by cloud services. Where that isn’t an issue, the setup described above can be enough to get you going.