PC makers look to cloud for user loyalty, biz expansion

"Natural evolution" for hardware manufacturers to adopt cloud as way to serve needs of consumers who increasingly favor use of multiple devices and to expand business into industry-specific offerings, analysts note.

Recent moves by PC makers to jump on the cloud computing bandwagon are part of a "natural evolution" meant to increase loyalty of customers who now have multiple devices and to expand from their core competencies.

Arun Chandrasekaran, ICT research director at Frost & Sullivan, noted that today's consumers are increasingly juggling the use of multiple devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones, with the expectation of being able to access their information from anywhere, regardless of the device they are using. This ubiquity of access, he said, is only possible if the information is stored in open formats, in a cloud environment.

This, in turn, is compelling PC makers such as Acer and Asus Technology to offer cloud services, or as Chandrasekaran puts it, "a natural evolution to serve the needs of consumers".

Ovum's research director, Steve Hodgkinson, added that companies such as Apple and Acer see cloud computing as part of an "ecosystem of services" that add value to their devices and promote customer loyalty to their brand.

"These companies are seeking to minimize the degree to which their devices are viewed as standalone, commodity-like purchases, and strengthen the value of the device [by positioning it as] an integrated access device for a range of services provided from the vendor's cloud," Hodgkinson elaborated.

Additionally, companies such as Dell are expanding the scope of their services by providing industry-specific offerings delivered through the cloud, the Ovum analyst noted. In this context, such services are a "logical, end-to-end complement" to both Dell's core hardware business and its emerging services arm.

"The ability to deploy such apps via the cloud is something that customers will come to expect from device manufacturers," Hodgkinson said.

Asked which layer of the cloud computing stack these PC makers should be focusing on to capture market share from existing players, Chandrasekaran suggested that "storage-as-a-service" should be their primary focus.

Beyond storage, these vendors could also look at delivering cloud-based software applications to users on an on-demand basis such as online games, he pointed out.

Cloud competition increasing
The analysts' comments come after recent back-to-back announcements from leading PC makers Acer and Asus that reiterated their cloud strategies.

Last month, Acer revealed that it would be acquiring cloud vendor iGware for US$320 million. Company spokesperson Henry Wang was cited in the ZDNet Asia report, saying that the Taiwanese company will start integrating iGware's technologies into its cloud software and platform after the deal is finalized, and will also be looking to launch an Acer cloud product some time in 2012.

As a result of the acquisition, the world's second-largest PC maker is said to be in talks with Nintendo--an iGware customer--about a potential partnership which could see the Japanese games company pay Acer US$20 million to US$30 million in service fees every year.

Rival Taiwanese PC vendor, Asus, responded a day later, calling for partners to jointly develop cloud computing technologies and products. According to a report by technology news site Digitimes, Asus recognized that applications for the cloud would "become the main battleground" in the IT industry and was looking to strengthen in this area.

Both Acer and Asus did not respond to ZDNet Asia by press time.

Chandrasekaran, however, sounded a note of caution to PC makers wanting to compete in the cloud space.

The Frost & Sullivan analyst said: "Being hardware vendors, they have a steep learning curve ahead in creating attractive online service bundles.

"While [companies like Acer and Asus] are moving in tune with the long-term industry direction, the key is in executing with a compelling online services model."