Posted by: Dylan | November 28, 2008

Cloud Computing

cloud-for-webRecently, there has been a lot of focus on something called “cloud computing”. Cloud is a synonym for the internet, a shapeless and generally unstructured gateway to data. The idea behind cloud computing is that the user’s data is uploaded onto a server, and they can then access this data from any other computer through access to the net. Despite the recent interest, cloud computing is not new. It has been around for a while, but it has just recently become a buzzword. One of the earliest uses of cloud computing was online email clients. AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo offered a web service where users could access all of their email from any computer, provided they had a password and username. There was no offline client required; everything could be accessed from the web. Just recently, it has come into the public eye as the new direction of computer interaction.

Many types of programs are being developed for the web. Google is a major player in the push to get more applications online. They have introduced Google Documents, an application suite much like an online version of Microsoft Office (albeit, simpler). Calendar programs, storage services, games, and all other types of software are being developed for cloud computing. The programs being developed for the internet are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and are starting to reach a level comparable to desktop software.

With cloud computing will come a new purchase model. There will be more focus on software as a service (SaaS). This pricing model involves a fee over time, much like a phone or cable bill. With this pricing users will always get the most up-to-date version of the software, instead of paying to buy a version of it. This model will be used because other companies are maintaining a server for you to store your data. The company has to pay an internet bill to keep this server running, and therefore, so will you.

Not all software will adopt the SaaS model. There will still be programs that use the current pricing model, as well as free ones. Peer to peer software will obviously not use SaaS, because there is no external server hosting your data. Information is shared directly between two or more different computers.

Eventually, the user’s whole computer system will be synchronized with the cloud. The operating system will be capable of uploading all data, allowing for a user to maintain their settings and workspace regardless of which computer they are working on.

There are pros and cons to this computing technique. Cloud computing will allow users to acess their data virtually anywhere, and will allow for seamless collaboration. On the flip side, the internet is never a safer place for data than a closed network.

Pros

  • The user can access his or her data anywhere he or she can connect to the internet. This data can be updated offline, then synchronized online so the most up-to-date version is available for the user.
  • Users can collaborate more seamlessly. Can not only share documents easier, but they can work on the same document at the same time in a real-time environment. Previously, someone would create and edit a file, then either give it to who he or she is working with in the form of a hard copy or some form of offline storage device (a thumb drive or disk) or send the file over email. The other user would review and edit the file, and then send it back. This could create discrepancies in the versions and is a slower process. With cloud computing, users can work together at the same time over the internet or just move files around easier.
  • No need to focus on managing and updating software. There is also no need to maintain a server. The company that supplies the software does it all. The user always have the latest version of the software and can ignore some technical issues that detract from productivity and actual work time.
  • SaaS model can be cheaper than buying the actual product in the short run. Of course, over a period of time, it could cost more. But if one factors in the cost for maintaining a server and updating software, under certain circumstances the prices of SaaS and software as a product (SaaP) could be equal.

Cons

  • Someone else is storing data for the user. If the user has any confidential data, this could be an issue. It bears repeating, the internet is never safer than a closed network. The user might not want to use cloud computing software to share data that contains important information, such as credit cards or financial data.
  • The user is always required to use the most updated version of the software. If this gets rid of features that they liked in previous versions or demands too much computing resources, there is nothing he or she can do about it.
  • Right now, programs do not work as quickly and are not capable of doing as much over the internet as they are on the desktop. Soon this will not be an issue. Internet connections are getting quick enough to negate this problem.

In the near future, cloud computing will become much more powerful and useful. Data can and will still be stored on users’ computers, but all programs will have some way of interacting with the internet. More programs will move online or develop online components. Data will not be locked into one system or media device. Data will be synchronized in open and standard file formats, allowing more programs to utilize files. This will allow programs to better interact with one another and will increase the amount of things that can be done with a file. The user will not be locked into a certain program by its file format.

The sharing of files and data will also lead to cross-platform data and media. Computers, television, music players, and cellphones will all be connected. Users will not never be disconnected from their data. This is already taking place. More music is now sold digitally than through CD’s. Music can be uploaded onto an MP3 player and can also be connected to a stereo. It is not confined to a physical device.

As more data shifts online, some interesting scenarios will arise. Laws governing the internet will need to be developed. Right now, the internet generally abides by the laws of the country the data resides in. If a server is located in the US or a US citizen uploads or downloads data they must follow the US government’s laws. But cloud computing will cause this data to exist seamlessly in multiple countries. If the data is produced in the US but stored in England,  what laws must the data abide by? There will need to be new laws created and countries will need to work together to develop a “internet government”. This is already starting to take effect, but not on the same international scale. The USA has recently developed a new executive branch in charge of managing intellectual property. With illegal software and media downloading running rampant, creators are not getting paid for what they made. This new executive branch will help to insure that pirating data does not happen. This is just a sign of things to come.

There will be a change in how data is stored, sold, and accessed. It is hard to say what shape this system will end up taking, but be prepared to rethink the way we interact and deal with one another. Right now we are in a time of globalization and collaboration. The playing field between different countries is being leveled and different people are working together much more seamlessly. The world is starting to become more connected and this is just a small facet of the dramatic changes to come.

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Responses

  1. Dylan:

    Very informative and well written — keep it up!

    To me, a big “con” of cloug computing is the learning curve that each user will have to go through each time the software changes.

    When a program (word processing for example) does everything I want it to do I sometimes resist upgrading not because of the cost but because of the time that it will take me to become fluent in the new program.

    However, I have to admit that the opportunity for instant collaboration over the internet has a very big upside.

    I axiously await your next blog.

    Kent

  2. Dylan, I have to catch up on your articles. I read your April 7 entry – excellent – but will comment on that later and catch up on your previous articles. I second your Dad’s comment about the time it takes to familairize yourself with software upgrades and tools. However, I like the idea of being able to access data from a “cloud”…this way you can keep up with email, work matters and have access to your information as long as you have internet access. For example when my brother visited the other day..he could get on our computer and access his hotmail account and clean that up when he had down time. My concern would be the ability for people to access your information…they would need to devise very good protection software especially in this day and age where people are so smart and can hack into anything. Thanks for yet another educating article.


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