At one level it just means another computer in a data centre somewhere else. But it also means a fundamental change to the way that we live and work. Government services from renewing car tax to arranging a refuse collection are now all handled in the cloud. The vast majority of the apps you use on your phone store data on those computers in the cloud. The whole ‘Internet of Things’ is based on the idea of billions of sensors all sending their data to the cloud for analysis.

This ‘cloud’ then is a collection of computer servers in data centres around the world, either public ones run by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Rackspace, or private ones by individual companies, from IBM and Oracle to BAe Systems and GKN. There is also the ‘hybrid’ cloud, that uses a combination of private resources and the public cloud, all connected by high-speed networks. This has led to new software technologies such as ‘containers’ that can move applications around between different computers in those public and private clouds.

South West cloud power users

Technologists in the Bristol and Bath region have been working on all these technologies long before it became the cloud. Oracle, IBM and HP all have hardware and software teams working on the technology here, while consultancy Cap Gemini, for example, has a data centre at Aztec West for its customers and Scott Logic helps customers all over the UK with cloud technology development. Startups such as Yellow Dog, HybridCluster and BrightPearl develop world-beating cloud software in the region.

So cloud hardware and software technology is an important part of the technology cluster in Bristol and Bath. As a result, some of these companies have come together as a Special Interest Group (SIG) to promote and develop cloud technology in the region.

How the Cloud SIG helps the South West

voxxed-days-bristol-videos-feature-largeThe Cloud SIG helps to bring some of the world’s leading conferences to Bristol and Bath. In February the SIG hosted the UK’s first Voxxed Day, bringing together hundreds of Java developers from all over Europe to look at the latest developments in cloud technology, while September saw the UK’s first OpenStack Day with over a hundred developers looking at the latest technology for data centres. The next Voxxed Day is planned for February 2017, and the SIG is actively working on the programme for the event.

This is slightly different from High Performance Computing (HPC) and supercomputers, where the region also has world leading skills. These are highly specialised high-speed computer systems often used for large computational problems such as simulation. These can be private or can be accessed directly by outside users as well.

Supercomputer-maker Cray set up its European headquarters and research and development centre in Bristol after acquiring a networking chip startup called Gnodal, and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation has its own supercomputer at the Bristol and Bath Science Park. Similarly, the University of Bristol has two IBM supercomputers for tackling big computational problems. One of these, Blue Crystal, is connected to the Bristol Is Open network.

The Cloud SIG is hosted and managed by High Tech Bristol and Bath (HBB) which also runs other SIGs such as one on skills and coding, health technology and autonomous drones,  and is looking at other on financial technology and the Internet of Things. HBB is supported by the High Tech Sector Group, which brings together all the tech activity in the region to advise the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the Invest in Bristol and Bath inward investment agency on tech strategy.

There is more information about the SIGs and how to get involved on the HBB website and The Voxxed Day presentations are available on video

Nick Flaherty