The barrage of information and opinions surrounding cloud computing is drenching the web. What do you know about cloud computing (if anything)? Does it excite you? Scare you? Are you an early adopter or will you wait for some of the fall out to settle before entering the cloud? The phrase itself conjures up both a vista of endless possibility and a confusing place where it is hard to see. Both are accurate. Let’s start with some defining terms and move out into the stratosphere from there.
Cloud computing takes the P out of PC
This analogy is a good place to start if you’ve got no idea what computers in the clouds might look like. You’ll still have a unit on your desk (or on your lap or in your hand) but the software and information in that unit won’t be locally attached.
At a basic level, cloud computing ‘lifts’ the bulk of software and storage from your personal computer and puts it in a central, off-site location. Beyond that, it provides a means by which users can ‘tap into’ the cloud to access applications and other services as they require. It’s a pay as you go service that has been likened to the way we purchase electricity – from a central grid, according to how much we use.
The big guns are already offering substantial cloud packages, albeit with slightly different names. Google Apps prefers the Software as a Service (or SaaS) label, while Amazon names themselves as: ‘the cloud you can depend on’. If you’re curious about which companies are leading the cloud land pack, sys.con media offers a possible top 50.
Relief from the pressure of information storage
This is one way of looking at cloud computing. And it is certainly the mast head of cloud marketing campaigns. The benefits of shifting the burden of storage, back up and software off site are obvious for large companies with a multitude of work stations and complex in house network systems. That’s how HP has been selling its Performance Optimized Data-Center (POD) – which is literally a shipping container transformed into a ‘mobile’ data centre.
However, online trend watcher Gartner suggests that by 2011 individual early technology adopters will move away from capital expenditure and purchase up to 40 per cent of their IT infrastructure as a service. So it’s not just businesses embracing life in the cloud. The rise of Web 2.0 applications has seen millions of individuals already engage in cloud computing. Free email accounts, online storage sites for photographs, videos and other data (think gmail, flickr and you tube) abound. A further move towards SaaS presents unique challenges to software monopolies such as Microsoft. IT developers will be forced to come up with ever more attractive offers in order to appeal to an ever more powerful and ‘mobile’ user-driven market.
Computer clouds may produce acid rain
Those not embracing cloud computing warn of the possible fall out. IT Guru Richard Stillman (creator of the GNU operating system) is cyclonic in his opposition to the technology. Stillman’s warnings are based around privacy issues. By using off-site, proprietary based systems, companies expose themselves to the risk of being ‘locked out’ of their own information. Other potential drawbacks include losing data due to crashing servers or routing problems, or – worst case scenario – service providers simply disappearing (as can happen in the fickle world of IT), taking their data with them.
Analogies have also been drawn to early days of main frame systems. The whole reason for the advent of personal computers was to give power, creativity and flexibility to individual users. There is some fear this control will be lost in a cloud computing model.
More measured critiques of cloud computing suggest the wisdom of a ‘tool based’ approach. Meaning – consider ‘cloud’ solutions for some applications and not others. For example, activities such as graphics editing and document typesetting might be best left on your desktop, while emails and other collaborative or shared data lend themselves to the cloud.
Waiting for the clouds of confusion to pass
There is little doubt that cloud computing has been created in response to genuine need. It has the potential to offer tangible benefits to businesses and individuals. As with all new technology, teething problems and quality assurance issues are prevalent. Sites such as TechNewsWorld provide quality articles and up to date information. So if you’re curious, get online and get searching. Cloud computing is here to stay and you may as well be prepared for the changing conditions ahead.