Opinion

The coronavirus outbreak is the cloud's chance to shine

It’s time to work from home, attend events virtually and explore all the remote wonders of cloud computing

In one of my favourite episodes of The Simpson, Mr Burns opens a casino in Springfield and locks himself away in a panic room. He watches all the other characters as they gamble on CCTV, zooming in to see the spread of germs. He becomes paranoid, refusing to leave the room and letting his beard and nails grow ridiculously long as he slowly descends into madness. 

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Such is the tattered reputation of Facebook, it’s easy to picture Mark Zuckerberg holed up in a panic room watching a crowd of developers cough and spread the outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus all over San Francisco. Thankfully, the company has put health and safety first and cancelled the F8 conference.

Google has done the same, deciding to “reimagine” Cloud Next 20 as a virtual conference due to the growing concerns over the impact of COVID-19. Currently, the concerns are that it is likely to spread to major cities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it puts the world in “uncharted territory”, but it can be contained with the right measures. 

Cancelling big events is a very good measure, in my opinion, but what’s even better – particularly for technology companies – is that they use the cloud computing they champion to showcase what it can actually do. You don’t need to travel anywhere when you can see it all via the internet – we can all be Monty Burns. 

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This is what Google has chosen to do with Cloud Next 20. It’s now a “free, global, digital-first, multi-day event”, the company has announced. This will include streamed keynotes where you won’t have to get dressed and you won’t lose your seat if you go get a cuppa. You can also see the breakout sessions, talk to the experts and check out all the new products and services without leaving your house. 

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It probably couldn’t have been set up in such a short time, but this would have also been a perfect opportunity to use virtual and augmented reality technologies. Imagine popping a headset on and your living room turns into one of Google’s breakout sessions. This was done for an Oculus event in 2018, so it is very much possible. There is so much more we can do with cloud computing and it seems that COVID-19 might be the catalyst for us to find out what. 

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Anyone who attends the big tech events knows that they are huge. A company usually spreads its keynote and other sessions around a building that’s often too big to see all of it. You need a strict plan to get in, see the whole three hours of what the CEO and their co-presenters have to say and then sprint off to meet with developers, experts or journalists in some far-flung corner. Wouldn't it be better for all involved if instead, on your laptop in the comfort of your own home, you can just click your way around – or have multiple meetings at once and conserve finger energy. 

This could also be an everyday reality (for some of us) as governments around the world look set to advise people to work from home. People in California have tested positive for COVID-19 and Italy’s Serie A football league has been put on hold as cases have popped up in northern parts of the country. It’s shutdown factories and offices across China and is now wreaking chaos across South Korea. There is a likelihood that it’s coming to a town near you too, with 39 reported cases in the UK, according to Sky. While we can all do our bit and wash our hands and avoid unnecessary travel, working remotely might just be the best solution for containment. 

I would put forward a concern about Wi-Fi speeds, given the UK isn’t exactly leading the way in that area. And, there’s also the likelihood of outages as more and more of us lean on the internet for work, but hey, that probably isn’t as frustrating as spreading a virus that’s potentially deadly to those with existing conditions.

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COVID-19 isn’t a pandemic yet – why not log in to the cloud and keep it that way? Open all the platforms and services your laptop can manage, pull-on a VR headset and immerse yourself in work, virtually. You can attend all the technology conferences you want via the internet and, best of all, getting dressed is optional.

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