Is the future of computing in the clouds?

March 30, 2009

by Mark Ollig

What is one of the hot topics being chatted about out there in the Internet blogoshere?

Cloud computing.

No, this isn’t a newly discovered “nano-molecule-vaper-electro-ionization” processing technique to convert the clouds in the sky into computing devices.

The expression “cloud” in this instance is used as a metaphor for the Internet.

From what I have learned, cloud computing essentially enables computer users to easily access the applications they normally use directly over the Internet, instead of having them stored on their local hard drives or business computer servers.

As an alternative to having your software data and applications reside in your computer’s hard drive, they would be accessible from a remote central server, which would distribute them like any other application resource to you via the Internet.

Saving money is one of the advantages given for using cloud computing.

My analogy for this “cloud network” would make it similar to how electricity or the power “application resource” is distributed into our microwave from the outlet which is connected to the “cloud” or transmission grid which connects to the power company.

Remember, I am your humble and at times simpleton columnist; my analogies are sometimes only fully understood by me.

Large corporations like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM, and Sun Microsystems are players in this cloud computing game, too.

The rumor is, IBM may be close to a deal with Sun Microsystems. By combing their technological expertise, they would be a significant force for Microsoft to contend with.

According to S&P Equity Research, an IBM-Sun combination would give them more than 40 percent of the current computing server market.

Hewlett-Packard currently has a 29 percent market share, followed by Dell with less than 11 percent.

HP, Intel, and Yahoo! are also working together on a “Cloud Computing Test Bed” research program.

“Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS), is where users can gain access to software or service applications and large amounts of virtual machine computing power without having to purchase it. The application is hosted off-site by another company and licensed to the users or the companies utilizing it. This dramatically reduces any maintenance and setup issues for the end users.

For you and me, an example of SaaS would be when we are using, our Google Mail or Gmail. When we access our Gmail account we are essentially accessing an application, via SaaS. Google, for its part, is maintaining the software, hardware, database, and servers where our e-mail is processed and stored.

When a large company contracts with Google to handle thousands of their own internal email accounts, the economy of scales change and Google will charge for this type of cloud computing service.

Large users of cloud computing can avoid having to buy individual software and hardware; they will only pay the provider of the service for what is actually used.

One picture on Wikipedia depicts cloud computing in the form of a large cloud (makes sense) and within this cloud are block diagrams of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and some lesser-known Internet sites. These sites are connected together and operating within this cloud sending information back-and-forth to each other. The links from the outer portion of this cloud are connected to end-users computers.

Another description of cloud computing from Wikipedia says “Users (us) need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure ‘in the cloud’ that supports them.”

IBM describes cloud computing as “an emerging style of Information Technology infrastructure designed for rapid delivery of computing resources.”

Similar to SaaS, cloud-computing clients can access the computing resources hosted by another company.

An example I can think of – and one you may have heard about or even used – is an online back-up service by a company called Carbonite, which stores (off-site) the files on your computer in case your hard drive crashes.

Carbonite has a fixed priced for unlimited backups to their servers, which I liked.

You can check out Carbonite at www.carbonite.com.

Here are a few common cloud, computing types your humble columnist found.

There is the “public cloud,” which is free to the user and made available over the Internet.

“Private clouds” offer many of the same benefits as public clouds but are managed within an organization. Private clouds can offer the provider and the end user greater control, security, and flexibility.

“Hybrid clouds” are a combination of public and private clouds.

Take a deep breath as I attempt to sum up cloud computing.

Cloud computing is the deliverance of many types of software application services from thousands of remotely located computing servers which are processing enormous amounts of data through various “cloud types.” These services are delivered over the Internet to billions of users like us.

So, in the near future when it comes to our computing needs, we might be looking to the clouds.

I can’t wait for the next advertising jingle we may be hearing soon. It will probably be the 1965 song by the Rolling Stones called “Get Off Of My Cloud.”

Last week’s “Web Site of the Week” forum had more than 5,000 views, which pleases the Bits_blogger to no end. This week’s focus will be on cloud computing, so be sure to stop by.