Like a Virgin: Google Partners to Promote Cloud Computing


by Tony Kontzer

What happens when The Cloud meets a man with his head in the clouds? We'll all find out June 24 when Richard Branson, the eccentric billionaire adventurer and entrepreneur behind Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America airlines, unveils his latest publicity brainstorm, A Day in the Clouds.

Virgin America, a pioneer in providing in-flight Internet service, and Google will jointly host a one-day online scavenger hunt that will be accessible either in flight or on the ground, with the winner to receive an HP Netbook, 1 terabyte of Google account storage, and a year's worth of free flights.

The idea is to promote the concept of cloud computing among consumers, who are largely unaware that their e-mail, photo-sharing and social networking activities generally rely upon cloud computing. A quick tour through the Day in the Clouds site makes it clear that the two companies also are attempting to build momentum for Google Apps, and for Virgin America's groundbreaking in-flight WiFi service, which will be available free to anyone flying on June 24. (Normally, passengers pay between $7.95 and $12.95 for connectivity, depending on the device and length of flight.)

But looking beyond those tangible goals, the event--which may or may not have been hatched by Branson; the press release doesn't say--could do for cloud computing what Apple's 1984 ad did for personal computers. That is, urge consumers to embrace a critical evolution in computing. Then again, it could just prove to be more of the kind of hype that has kept so many skeptics in the IT world from embracing the cloud.

So what does this all mean for IT executives? Possibly nothing. But if Virgin and Google have gauged consumers correctly, it could mean many things. For starters, the stunt could compel companies to make cloud computing investments once they realize the dependability of access to real-time data from cloud-based systems while in the air.

It also could spur innovation in the market for cloud resources. Stay with me here: In an IPO market as lean as the one we've seen of late, perception means a lot, and average investors know very little about cloud computing. But if A Day in the Clouds raises their awareness of the cloud and what it's already bringing to their lives, that newfound understanding could lead to increased interest in investing in cloud providers, which in turn would lead to more capital and, ultimately, new products.

If nothing else, the effort will serve as a loud reminder of the already ubiquitous nature of the cloud. And any IT execs who've had their heads in the sand on this topic better pay heed, because if Joe Consumer is using the cloud--and understanding it--then any company that hasn't embraced the cloud yet is already several steps behind.