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Next Big Thing: Life in the Cloud revisited

We revisit last year's Next Big Thing topic to see whether life in the cloud became the "big thing" we anticipated.

In 2009, CNET predicted that the Next Big Thing in 2009 would be "life in the cloud." Cloud computing was, in 2008, starting to become a major topic of discussion: would consumers trust their personal and corporate data to the cloud? Would businesses embrace the idea of offering more and more storage as we stored less and less data locally? Would enterprises re-architect their offerings and their businesses to take advantage of this revolution in cheap storage and online services? We had a fascinating conversation about the evolution of consumer data storage and entertainment, the hurdles facing cloud evolution (bandwidth crunch, anyone?), and the challenges facing this evolving trend. Now, as we approach our 2010 session, we thought it might be a good time to take a look back and see how we did.

First: were we right? Did cloud computing take off in 2009? Well, let's be honest: we weren't too far out on a limb, and that limb held up. Cloud computing became the buzzword of 2009, though I think we have to admit that it didn't become the consumer juggernaut we were expecting. Enterprises talked of nothing else, whether it was Microsoft's Azure or Amazon's EC2. Even the federal government laid out a plan for moving into the cloud.

Then again, Google never did deliver its rumored Gdrive service, a cloud-based storage system that was supposedly going to kill the PC and move every consumer to cloud-based storage. There was no massive migration of personal health records to either Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault. Hard drives weren't flying out of windows or anything like that. But that was never the point. In 2009, the cloud became more gradually pervasive, and laid the groundwork for real, fundamental behavior shifts.

Users gobbled up small, Web-oriented Netbooks all year long (even to the detriment of the PC industry). Google's lightweight Chrome OS aims to take advantage of an increasingly Web-centric world. And of course, users turned their documents, email, and data over to Google in increasing numbers throughout the year--and Google encouraged them in kind, offering increased personal storage across the board.

That said, one of our biggest discussion points on the panel was definitely borne out through the year: cloud security. Security is the biggest reason people are reluctant to store their data in the cloud, and some of those fears came true in 2009. Botnets and malicious attacks, high-profile Google outages, little Linux slips of the tongue, and of course the disastrous loss of all that T-Mobile Sidekick customer data put some major dents in consumer confidence viz the cloud.

Now, as we enter 2010, companies are just as focused, if not more so, on cloud security as they are on building out the services themselves. But since cloud computing continues to be a major tech trend for 2010, I think it's safe to say that it is, indeed, a Big Thing.

Now, what about the next Next Big Thing? Well, if you'll be at CES this year, please join us for the 2010 Next Big Thing SuperSession on January 7 at 3 p.m. Pacific in Las Vegas. This year's topic? "I Want My IPTV." We're betting that television delivered over the Internet will be a defining trend of 2010, and we'll discuss whether it'll hurt traditional cable or satellite delivery, whether consumers will embrace streaming video online or via set-top boxes, and what Internet-connected TVs might mean for the way we consume our TV. It should be a great conversation, and I'll be back next year to let you know how it all turns out in 2010.