Computing is a term that is often bandied about the web these days and
often attributed to different things that -- on the surface -- don't
seem to have that much in common. So just what is Cloud Computing? I've
heard it called a service, a platform, and even an operating system.
Some even link it to such concepts as grid computing -- which is a way
of taking many different computers and linking them together to form one
very big computer.
basic definition of cloud computing is the use of the Internet for the
tasks you perform on your computer. The "cloud" represents the Internet.
Cloud Computing is a Service
The simplest thing that a computer does is allow us to store and
retrieve information. We can store our family photographs, our favorite
songs, or even save movies on it. This is also the most basic service
offered by cloud computing.
a great example of cloud computing as a service. While Flickr started
with an emphasis on sharing photos and images, it has emerged as a great
place to store those images. In many ways, it is superior to storing
the images on your computer.
Flickr allows you to easily access your images no matter where you are
or what type of device you are using. While you might upload the photos
of your vacation to Greece from your home computer, you can easily
access them from your laptop while on the road or even from youriPhone while sitting in your local coffee house.
Second, Flickr lets you share the images. There's no need to burn them to a compact disc or save them on a flash drive. You can just send someone your Flickr address.
Flickr provides data security. If you keep your photos on your local
computer, what happens if your hard drive crashes? You'd better hope you
backed them up to a CD or a flash drive! By uploading the images to
Flickr, you are providing yourself with data security by creating a
backup on the web. And while it is always best to keep a local copy --
either on your computer, a compact disc or a flash drive -- the truth is
that you are far more likely to lose the images you store locally than
Flickr is of losing your images.
This is also where grid computing comes
into play. Beyond just being used as a place to store and share
information, cloud computing can be used to manipulate information. For
example, instead of using a local database, businesses could rent CPU
time on a web-based database.
downside? It is not all clear skies and violin music. The major
drawback to using cloud computing as a service is that it requires an
Internet connection. So, while there are many benefits, you'll lose them
off if you are cut off from the Web.
Cloud Computing is a Platform
The web is the operating system of the future. While
not exactly true -- we'll always need a local operating system -- this
popular saying really means that the web is the next great platform.
a platform? It is the basic structure on which applications stand. In
other words, it is what runs our apps. Windows is a platform. The Mac OS
is a platform. But a platform doesn't have to be an operating system.
Java is a platform even though it is not an operating system.
Through cloud computing, the web is becoming a platform. With trends such as Office 2.0,
we are seeing more and more applications that were once the province of
desktop computers being converted into web applications. Word
processors like Buzzword and office suites likeGoogle Docs are
slowly becoming as functional as their desktop counterparts and could
easily replace software such as Microsoft Office in many homes or small
But cloud computing transcends Office 2.0 to deliver applications of all shapes and sizes fromweb mashups to Facebook applications to web-based massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
With new technologies that help web applications store some information
locally -- which allows an online word processor to be used offline as
well -- and a new browser called Chrome to push the envelope, Google is a major player in turning cloud computing into a platform.
Cloud Computing and Interoperability
A major barrier to cloud computing is the interoperability of
applications. While it is possible to insert an Adobe Acrobat file into a
Microsoft Word document, things get a little bit stickier when we talk
about web-based applications.
is where some of the most attractive elements to cloud computing --
storing the information on the web and allowing the web to do most of
the 'computing' -- becomes a barrier to getting things done. While we
might one day be able to insert our Google Docs word processor document
into our Google Docs spreadsheet, things are a little stickier when it
comes to inserting a Buzzword document into our Google Docs spreadsheet.
for a moment that Google probably doesn't want you to have the ability
to insert a competitor's document into their spreadsheet, this creates a
ton of data security issues. So not only would we need a standard for
web 'documents' to become web 'objects' capable of being generically
inserted into any other web document, we'll also need a system to
maintain a certain level of security when it comes to this type of data
Possible? Certainly, but it isn't anything that will happen overnight.
What is Cloud Computing?
brings us back to the initial question. What is cloud computing? It is
the process of taking the services and tasks performed by our computers
and bringing them to the web.
What does this mean to us?
With the "cloud" doing most of the work, this frees us up to access the
"cloud" however we choose. It could be a super-charged desktop PC
designed for high-end gaming, or a "thin client" laptop running the
Linux operating system with an 8 gig flash drive instead of a
conventional hard drive, or even an iPhone or a Blackberry.
can also get at the same information and perform the same tasks whether
we are at work, at home, or even a friend's house. Not that you would
want to take a break between rounds of Texas Hold'em to do some work for the office -- but the prospect of being able to do it is pretty cool.