Well, what is cloud computing ? A good question, as it is challenging to obtain a consistent answer. This is largely one of the biggest problems in understanding the cloud. A recent survey showed that over 51% of participants believe stormy weather can interfere with cloud computing, and that 56% of respondents question other people’s knowledge on the subject when used in conversation. A further 22% admitted to faking understanding of cloud computing, with some even lying in the workplace and during job interviews.
In general, there are some common themes cloud computing brings; however, this somewhat varies if you are a consumer or a business. For end users, typically the cloud is billed as a way to keep your life in sync by automatically replicating data and information across different devices, and delivering applications through web browsers (Facebook, Gmail). This is all glued together using a centralised ‘cloud’ infrastructure. For businesses and larger enterprises, the cloud delivers improvements in efficiency through distributed systems and storage, as well as the ability to scale computing power on demand for critical applications. Many firms now offer ‘private’ clouds, which are little more than systems on isolated networks that are not otherwise publically available.
Over the last few years the hype around cloud computing has grown exponentially, and has been on the forefront of many technology-marketing campaigns.
The concept of the cloud is to actually abstract the technology and components away from the user, and deliver services in a utility-centric manner. It is conceptually a natural evolution of subsets of interconnected devices that make up the Internet.
But is any of this technology new ? No, not necessarily. Many of the underlying platforms and concepts that deliver cloud computing have long existed. Google and Amazon Web Services, arguably two of the leading cloud providers, have essentially used the same computing theory that underpins most cloud implementations for over a decade. In fact, many firms have used the hype of the cloud to rebrand and combine products that have long existed.
Despite this, the cloud is still a young and relatively immature platform when many different services are bundled together. Amazon Web Services recently faced a massive outage where a simple network change was performed incorrectly, and unexpectedly set off a massive chain reaction. The Cloud services attempted to recover from the supposed momentary network failure, but unwittingly overwhelmed the data centre, taking offline a large portion of their US cloud for over 24 hours, and in some cases, inflicted irreversible data loss. The cloud can also be a goldmine for social engineering; it can offer a single point of access to your digital life, as was recently demonstrated in a high profile hacking of a well known blogger.
Cloud computing will likely continue to be the brand under which businesses deliver software and services in the near future. Eventually, when broadband networks permit, it is conceivable that computing will be delivered entirely through the Internet. This would see consumers pay for computing as a utility, and instead of the large investment in individual computers, end users would remotely access a virtual centralised computer that held of their data, settings and software.