Ballmer Says the Future is in the Clouds

Microsoft chief executive touts cloud computing as the future of business communications.

By Jonathan Katz

HOUSTON - Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer spoke enthusiastically about cloud computing, calling it the most important technological shift of today during his keynote address at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston March 9.

Cloud computing will enable businesses to communicate and process information in a virtual world without physical interaction with a computer, Ballmer said.

The technology is already available in the consumer market through gaming devices, such as Microsoft's XBox 360 Kinect and Nintendo Wii. Of course, Ballmer used a demonstration of Microsoft's XBox to show how players can communicate with each other and their virtual worlds through simple hand-motion commands.

Microsoft plans to bring the same type of technology to business environments in the near future through personal computers and phones, according to Ballmer.

Microsoft has worked with a few manufacturers to implement cloud-computing technology into industrial applications. The company developed a system for oil field services company Baker Hughes Inc. to significantly reduce the time it takes to produce sophisticated simulations, Ballmer said. Microsoft also worked with Ford Motor Co. on its Sync hands-free communications technology.

But cloud computing still must overcome obstacles for widespread use in more complex business operations that move beyond a company's four walls. That's because businesses are hesitant to such technology until it can be proven that its secure and reliable, Ballmer said.