Cloud applications are wide and varied. Household names such as Facebook and Twitter are cloud based as are content management systems such as WordPress. Netflix, another house hold name, streams video to millions of viewers from its servers based in the cloud. At the other end of the spectrum are advanced IT oriented cloud services such as Cisco’s OverDrive network virtualization services. OverDrive virtualizes routing, switching, security and access control in the cloud.
The general consensus is that MSN’s Hotmail was the original cloud computing service – although it wasn’t regarded as such when it launched in July, 1996. Google raised the bar in terms of capability by introducing their Docs & Spreadsheets (now simply called Google Docs) cloud service. Taking direct aim at Microsoft’s hold on the Office Suite space, Google Docs offered less functionality – the thinking being that a simplified feature set is actually an advantage for the vast majority of users. Studies have shown that 80 percent of the traditional desktop application user community only uses 20 percent of the available features. The busyness of the user interface becomes an impediment for these users. Offsetting the “dumbed-down” feature set is the ability to:
- Collaborate on a file with other people on a real time basis regardless of where the participants are located.
- Access the documents from any browser on any OS from anywhere there is Internet connectivity.
- Use Google Docs at no charge.
- Know that you will always be using the latest, most secure version of the application.
- Know that user file backup practices offered by Google are going to be more reliable and secure than those followed in many homes and businesses.
Microsoft’s Office 365 offers tight integration between its desktop software model and its cloud services – essentially the best of both worlds – a richer feature set combined with the benefits of working in the cloud.
Dropbox and Carbonite, on the other hand, offer a more basic service by providing automatic, unattended synchronization and back up of user files to the cloud. Encryption options are available as are file sharing options with Dropbox.
The following video from the Pentasoft Channel describes the philosophy of cloud computing by concentrating on the three pillars of:
- Utility Computing – Distributed Server Capacity
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
Many consumer oriented cloud services predate Google Docs. Photo storage and sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa have been around for years now. Even processor-intensive applications such as Photoshop have a cloud based repository and editing environment. Video editing, arguably one of the most bandwidth-demanding, processor intensive applications, is available in the cloud from the likes of YouTube Video Editor and Kaltura.
As the World Wide Web rapidly evolves to HTML5 many resources currently found in a client operating system are being moved out to the cloud. A simple example is cloud based fonts. Prior to HTML5, a web designer was limited to the fonts residing in the site visitor’s operating system. Among many other things, HTML5 allows new font sets to be loaded from the cloud. In fact, as we move to HTML5, the very tools used to develop websites are moving to the cloud.
An intriguing concept is Google Cloud Print. As a companion to Google Chrome, Cloud Print places printer drivers and security credentials in the cloud. Printers are then mapped to the appropriate cloud profile. Not only does this enable printing from virtually any computer anywhere, it also has the potential to redefine the way we use legacy services such as facsimile and the postal service.
In April 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap in Iceland erupted causing days of flight cancellations and delays for both passengers and air cargo. Some of the affected cargo was trans-Atlantic mail. Had we evolved to a cloud print world, much of the mail would have been unaffected because it would have printed locally – be it at a postal centre, or at the actual addressee’s home or office.
The world of Cloud Computing is advancing rapidly. Derrick Harris of Gigaom recently assembled a list of 8 cloud companies he feels we should be watching in 2011. Just click hereto read his analysis.
In our final installment we’ll take a look at the bandwidth implications as a result of the boom in cloud computing.