“The concept of outsourcing hardware, software and file storage to service providers on the Internet” is how Forrester Research defines Cloud Computing.
Many have pointed out the philosophical similarities between Cloud Computing and the days prior to broad adoption of the personal computer.
- Application hosting, data processing and storage were centralized on mainframe computer platforms.
- The user community accessed these resources through a standards-based (albeit proprietary) communications network infrastructure.
- The computing power of the user terminal was limited relative to the mainframe (admittedly, a huge understatement).
That’s pretty much where the similarities end. We now live in a world with near ubiquitous access to the Internet using it’s suite of standardized protocols under TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Over and above the communications advantages, the Internet itself is now home to an infinite array of resources. Equally significant is the parallel evolution (arguably revolution) of end user devices. Unlike the monochromatic glow of yesterday’s text based dumb terminal, today’s world offers an incomparable variety of feature-rich, graphically based end user devices supported by numerous operating systems – all with their own attributes. Add to that the wireless revolution with its mobilization of the Internet and one would be hard pressed to draw further parallels.
Cloud computing is compelling for a number of good reasons:
- Hardware, application software (including updates) and system security are administered by the host.
- Many cloud computing environments support rich multiparty collaboration.
- Barriers to entry are comparatively low and affordable.
- User device agnostic: supports any device equipped with a standards compliant browser.
- CPU power of end user equipment is very low.
- Very little RAM is required in end user equipment.
- Virtually no local storage requirements beyond operation system and web browser. User file storage is hosted in the cloud as opposed to on a local disk drive or file server.
- Power hungry and comparatively slow hard disk drives are being replaced with fast, solid state storage in Cloud Computing user devices. Instant booting, and much longer battery life are two of the most apparent benefits.
- Portabilty, Mobility, Ubiquity: Cloud resources are available anywhere there is internet access.
- Generally very low network bandwidth required by the end user.
Dedicated Cloud Platforms
One of the more intriguing Cloud Computing developments has been the emergence of Google’sChrome O/S. Chrome O/S devices will have all the hardware attributes listed above, but in the spirit of a complete Cloud Computing experience, Chrome O/S is, as the name implies, is an Operating System hard coded into the hardware. Alone, a Chrome O/S product is of limited utility. Add a connection to the Internet – even a relatively slow one – and the user instantly has access to all those applications, not to mention the web via the integrated Chrome browser.
Initial reviews of Chrome O/S have been mixed. Regardless, no one can argue that from a conceptual perspective, Chrome O/S is a very compelling solution for many user categories, students for example. Chrome O/S takes the netbook/sub-notebook category to a new level. The video below from Epipheo Studios succinctly describes the thinking behind the development of Chrome O/S.
Rumours abound that Google will merge Chrome O/S’ functionality into its very popular and broadly available Android mobile operating system. Time will tell… In the meantime, Microsoft has leveraged their strong position in feature-rich desktop applications. By integrating Office 2010 desktop with Microsoft’s cloud environment known as Office Web Apps, users can enjoy document sharing and collaboration, regardless of location, even when a connection to the Internet is temporarily out of reach. Once reconnected to the Internet, sophisticated synchronization automatically reconciles any updated content.