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What is Cloud Computing?

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As the concept of “cloud computing” is just starting to hit the mainstream, there really isn’t a standardized definition to the term. To make things worse, the term “cloud computing” has been used to describe grid computing, software as a service, utility computing, internet applications, autonomic computing, peer-to-peer computing and remote processing.

Cloud computing is a type of computing that relies on sharing computing resources rather than having individual personal devices or local servers to handle the individual applications. Cloud computing involves the networking of large groups of servers. These are typically equipped with low-cost consumer PC technology, and have specialized connections to spread data-processing chores across them. This information technology infrastructure typically contains large pools of systems that are linked together.

This definition is a bit technical so what does “cloud computing” actually mean? Cloud computing is essentially a storage network for personal or business-related data (photos, videos, music, documents, templates, e-mail, etc.) that simply allows users to access their files from any terminal, provided it has an internet connection. With cloud computing, the user essentially only needs a monitor and an internet connection. Virtually all hardware and software is eliminated from the user’s access point. Everything is maintained and stored remotely in the “cloud”, which could be thousands of miles away and maintained by a third party

Virtually all tech-savvy business professionals are saying the same thing; cloud computing is going to change the way in which organizations do business while simultaneously reshaping the tradition IT model.




Benefits of Cloud Computing

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Since this method of computing utilizes distant servers for data storage and management, individual user terminals tend to use smaller and more efficient chips and therefore consume less energy than standard computers.

This method has the potential to drastically reduce costs associated with hardware and software purchases and leases. Rather than owning 20 individual PCs, a small business can create a network storage system and implement 20 terminal stations. Cloud-based services are enabling businesses to outsource tasks such as archiving e-mails or running analyses of their latest sales numbers, without having to buy the hardware or software themselves.

Cloud computing also allows for decreased IT costs. In some cases, IT personnel can be eliminated or outsourced completely. Existing IT staff can shift their focus on more value added activities since cloud computing removes the need for constant server updates and other computing issues. This can assist innovation. Because cloud computing is strongly automated, businesses also no longer need to worry about keeping software up to date.

Cloud computing enables users to access networks and sub-systems through a simple web browser. User location and hardware configuration has little bearing on data integrity or accessibility. Since the true infrastructure of the system is typically off-site and usually only accessed via the internet, cloud computing users can access their network and the associated systems from virtually anywhere.

Cloud computing can also be beneficial with regards to network security, especially for small businesses. Startup companies are usually unable or unwilling to spend a lot of time and money on security. They simply don’t have the capital to completely stave off criminal activity. Third-part cloud computing providers typically have the capacity, technology and infrastructure to survive cyber attacks. This is solidified through data centralization and increased security-related resources.

For some business, the decision to switch to cloud computing will also have a notable impact on data storage and recovery. Increased storage capability means businesses can store more data than they normally could through private computer systems and localized networks.


Current Cloud Computing Providers


As is the case with most emerging technology sectors, there are several businesses who are attempting to anchor themselves in the emerging cloud computing market. The following companies are all attempting to service the cloud market in varying capacities:

3Tera
Agathon Group
Amazon Web Services
AppNexus
Appistry - Cloud computing middleware
Aptana Cloud
AT&T
Bungee Connect
Cashier Live
CAM Solutions
Cassatt
CloudHan
CloudScale Networks
CloudStatus
Cloudswitch
Coherence
CohesiveFT
ElasticHosts
EMC Corp
EngineYard
Force.com
Flexiscale
GigaSpaces
GoGrid
Good Data
Google AppEngine
GridLayer
Heroku
Hosting.com
Hosting365
Iron Mountain
Joyent
Kaavo's IMOD
LayeredTechnologies
MediaTemple
Microsoft Mesh
Morph Labs
Mosso
Nasstar
Newservers
Nirvanix
nScaled, Inc
Plura Processing
Q-layer
Quickbase
Qrimp
RightScale
Skytap
Sonian Networks
Stax
Sun Network
Terremark Enterprise Cloud
ThoughtExpress
TrustSaaS
UtilityStatus



Google’s GDrive


Rumors have been circulating for some time now about Google's "GDrive" service which is simply a cloud-based storage network for personal data. Although Google has yet to announce the existence of this service, it is generating a great deal of tech buzz nevertheless. With cloud computing, users no longer have to worry about their hard drives crashing, since data would be saved elsewhere on the Web, and can essentially be accessed from any machine. With the rumored GDrive, a PC is basically a device acting as a portal to the Web, enabling users to think of their computer more as software rather than hardware. The GDrive service will essentially provide all users with a universally accessible network share that spans across computers, operating systems and even devices.

GDrive enables users to quickly transfer files with ease. However, complaints of instability especially when users are trying to upload files through Google Docs have plagued the public storage device. Microsoft attacked Google's approach in data warehousing whereas the latter does not have a solid implementation that would let it customers assume complete control with applications.


The Future of Computing?


Personal users and businesses alike have already been turning toward Web-based applications. For example, email services like Hotmail and Gmail are gaining popularity while photo storage services like Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa are continuing to increase their user base.

Some experts are predicting the eventual downfall of the personal computer market. PCs and Macs alike stand to lose a huge percentage of market share if cloud computing lives up to its hyped potential.


cloud_computing.jpgThe recession may even be strengthening the momentum of cloud computing. Companies, large and small are carefully examining their budgets and exploring ways in which they can cut costs. Anyone who has ever had a hard-drive fail on them can certainly appreciate the convenience of data backup through the internet. Cloud computing can potentially open the door for several would-be entrepreneurs, especially those in the tech industries. It will allow start-up business to cut costs in IT expenditures, which will allow them to invest in other facets of the business. On the other side of the coin, depending on its success, cloud computing will essentially create an entirely new industry. As with all new industries, it will present an opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop new business models. There are certainly some security questions that need to be addressed as far as data confidentiality, but I think it will be ultimately be a safe investment in the near future.

However, it is important to note that there have been similar experiments in this kind of "cloud" computing in the past such as Microsoft's "Windows Live SkyDrive" and AOL's "Xdrive", neither of which exist anymore. The idea never seemed to catch on. Perhaps Microsoft and AOL just didn’t have the right marketing team on the case because cloud computing is certainly garnering a great deal of contemporary PR.

I personally believe that cloud computing will find tremendous success in the coming years, especially in lieu of these tough economic times. Companies are looking for ways to cut the fat and cloud computing may be one way in which to do so. It is currently a high risk investment, but it may be one that really pays off.




Joshua Ball is an Electronic Commerce major at the university of Toledo.