When we talk about cloud computing, the focus is often on how it helps the enterprise host workloads more efficiently or how it simplifies the work done by IT professionals. But there’s another group--an even bigger one--for whom cloud computing has been truly transformative: ordinary end users. If you want to understand how to get the most out of a cloud strategy--and you engage with general end users in any way--it’s important to think about end users’ computing experience and why it matters.
So, let’s consider the ways that the cloud impacts ordinary end users’ computing experience and the steps IT pros can take to optimize it.
Who Are the Cloud’s End Users?
First, here’s what I mean when I use the term “ordinary end users.”
I’m referring to people who simply use applications on an everyday basis, either via a PC, a smartphone or whatever other device lets them connect. They may be employees inside a company who are end users of the company’s internal or line-of-business apps. Or they may be the general public, connecting to applications designed for massive public consumption.
Most end users have no special technical skills; in fact, many have only a vague idea of what the cloud even means. (Most end users, in my experience, tend to think that the cloud refers only to remote data storage services like Dropbox, which represent just a tiny slice of the cloud computing ecosystem.)
Nonetheless, all end users certainly care about their experience. They want applications that are fast, reliable and feature-rich. Thinking about how the cloud helps to improve end users’ computing experience is critical for designing a cloud strategy that actually works.
How the Cloud Helps End Users
The shift to cloud-based architectures during the past decade has created a variety of new opportunities for improving end users computing experience.
One obvious benefit is application deployment. Today, the experience of installing an application locally from a disk or CD is foreign for the typical end user. Today’s user expects to be able to access all the apps he or she needs instantly, in the cloud. The end user doesn’t need to worry about installing or updating them.
Along similar lines, the cloud has done much to usher in a platform-agnostic world, at least from end users’ computing perspectives. In a world where many everyday applications are hosted in the cloud and accessed through Web browsers, it matters much less whether a user is on Windows, Linux or macOS, or whether he or she has a PC, a phone or something else. The idea that end user applications work only with certain hardware and software configurations is also becoming foreign, thanks to the cloud.
A third major benefit of the cloud for ordinary end users is data reliability. Today, personal user data is often born in the cloud and lives in the cloud by default. This makes it considerably more reliable (not to mention more accessible) than data that is stored locally. Some end users still fail to manage their data responsibly, but, by and large, data protection for end users has become simpler in the cloud age.
Optimizing the End User Cloud Experience
Of course, what’s easy for end users isn’t always easy for IT. Indeed, the cloud computing benefits described above don’t happen automatically. Rather, delivering these benefits to improve your end users' computing experience requires careful cloud planning on the part of IT pros.
For example, taking steps to address the Achilles’ Heel of the cloud--network bandwidth constraints (which are improving but are still a real challenge)--is critical for optimizing end users’ computing experience. A cloud architecture that requires large amounts of data to move frequently between end-user devices and the cloud will often result in poorer performance. It’s better to design applications and infrastructure in such a way that most of the data always lives in the cloud.
Likewise, delivering true data reliability in the age of the cloud means taking advantage of redundant cloud storage, either by spreading data across multiple zones or regions in the same cloud, or duplicating it across multiple clouds. If you store data in only one location in the cloud, you are at a higher risk of letting your end users down by losing their data in the event that the single storage location fails. And while cloud data centers tend to fail much less often than end users’ local devices, cloud outages certainly still happen.
Delivering truly cross-platform end user experiences in the cloud requires effort, too. It requires a development and testing routine that lets you vet your apps across a variety of different types of environments. And because supporting all types of environments everywhere is usually not feasible, it also requires evaluating which types of operating systems and devices are in highest usage among your target demographics. This information helps you know which types of environments to prioritize for testing.
Finally, delivering the best possible end user computing experience in the age of the cloud means totally eliminating burdens placed upon end users to set up or configure their environments before they can use a cloud-based app or service. If you require users to install a browser extension or download a package for local installation before they can use your product, you have not fully embraced the age of the cloud. From the user’s perspective, using your product should be as simple as pressing a button or opening a URL.
The cloud has ushered in tremendous improvements to the way ordinary end users experience applications and services. Yet, benefits such as better performance and reliability, and the ability to access software from any type of end user platform, can be fully realized only with careful planning on the part of the IT pros who design and manage cloud architectures.
The moral: Always keep end users in mind, and strive to optimize their experience even when you’re designing your cloud back end.