By JEFFREY F. RAYPORT

Once every dozen years or so, a computing revolution comes along that changes the way we relate to information, entertainment and communications. Powerful mainframes emerged in the 1950s, followed by personal computers in the late 1970s, and then, in the last decade, small and powerful computers like laptops, notebooks and cell phones have begun rapidly morphing into smart phones like Apple's iPhone.

Today, we are standing on the verge of a new computing revolution and Angelenos are poised to lead the way.

The city of Los Angeles is joining a movement that comprises a growing number of local governments and corporations moving information technology systems into the so-called "cloud." Why? Because doing so can lower costs, increase effectiveness and bolster data security.

What technologists like to call the cloud is the idea of centralized computing on tap. The concept is simple. Using large-scale data centers, cloud providers can give individual users access to industrial-strength processing power and storage to anyone with an Internet access device. Just as you turn on a faucet to get water or plug in an appliance to get power, many of the features and functions of stand-alone machines from desktop PCs to super computers are reliably accessible today using cloud services via the Net.

Advantages

Rhere are advantages to such reconfiguration of computing resources. For instance, cloud processing power is far greater than any personal computer just as the electricity you get from a local power utility is vastly greater than any power you could generate on your own at home or at the office.

Cloud technology may seem novel to some, even arcane to others. But it's already so interwoven into people's lives that many of us don't even know we're using it. Services such as Microsoft's Hotmail, Yahoo's Flickr and Google's YouTube not to mention social networks like MySpace and Facebook use cloud platforms to give users ways to store, manage and share social contacts, messaging, photo albums and videos over the Internet as opposed to on their own devices.

Right now, the city of Los Angeles has an opportunity to embrace the cloud future. It is considering moving its legacy e-mail and office "productivity" applications (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations) onto a cloud platform. It would mean that instead of installing software and data on each city employee's individual computer, an expensive and inefficient process, city workers could tap into those programs from any computer connected to the Internet in ways that would deliver several key benefits. The city and its residents should find this especially attractive for a resource-constrained government in lean economic times.

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