Computing in the clouds
The newest buzzword on the block is Cloud Computing. Someone, somewhere, wants to sell you a cloud computing solution. Is it the "next big thing" or just more marketing?
Programmers love drawing diagrams and flow charts, and in those diagrams, a cloud symbol is frequently used to represent the Internet, its blurred boundaries and its fuzzy mass of connections and servers. From these origins has come the word "Cloud Computing" and enthusiasts who claim cloud computing will be the next big paradigm shift. The term is loosely used to describe putting your applications and data onto the Internet instead of storing them on your own PCs. Perhaps some examples will make it clearer.
Los Angeles City Council has recently announced its intention to embrace cloud computing. No longer will it run its own mail servers. Instead its 30,000 employees will use Google Mail as their mail interface and store all their email online on Google servers somewhere in the cloud. Gone are the days when it installed applications like Word and Excel. Instead its staff will use Google Apps to do the same thing.
The contract is worth $7.25 million to Google. LACC hopes it will save them money by not needing to run its own servers, infrastructure, technical support staff and upgrade costs. Not all council members are convinced though that Google can securely store sensitive council data. Councilman Koretz told the LA Times "It's unclear if this is cutting edge, or the edge of a cliff we are about to step off."
In this country, the Open University is an organisation talking cloud computing with both Google and Microsoft. It hopes to be able to outsource email for its 230,000 students and also make use of large amounts of cloud-based document storage. Another type of cloud service popping up in the UK this month is energy monitoring. In future, people with the right kinds of electricity meter will be able to monitor their domestic electricity usage using Google's Smart Meter Cloud Service and, believe it or not, easily share your meter readings with your friends. Competition is expected from Microsoft who are testing a similar service in the US.
Cloud computing is also used to describe making computing power available over the internet. Microsoft is soon to release its Azure platform which will be built around an SQL database. Instead of installing, configuring and running your own SQL server, you will be able to buy space and processing power from Microsoft as required. Amazon has produced its service, Amazon EC2 which stands for Elastic Cloud Computing, a name intended to emphasise scalability, and which lets you create virtual servers to run your own applications, again charged out according to how much computer power and disk space you actually use.
With these examples you probably begin to see that, at this level at least, there is nothing revolutionary about cloud computing, and many of you reading this newsletter already outsource some of your email and web server requirements to Skill Zone rather than run your own servers in house. Some of you use our webmail interface rather than Outlook. Some of you already use "cloud storage" located somewhere on our servers as a way of managing documents that you want to share amongst your staff and customers. And some of you already run sophisticated "cloud applications" on our servers including shared calendars, insurance premium calculations, mapping, and, most recently, address file matching.
With so many fuzzy definitions of cloud computing, and so many companies seeking to jump on the cloud bandwagon, it is difficult to know what we do that isn't already cloud computing.
25th November 2009
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.