Surfing On The Cloud~An Observer’s Perspective

cloudy with a chance of meatballs!

Pardon me if you were of the opinion that this description relates to the fictional act of cloud surfing! However if you thought ‘cloud computing’,then you are certainly at the right place.

This entry will aim to illustrate very briefly about what its is, how it came into existence and why is it so damn important these days that every major firm is in someway or another actively engaged with this new technology. Lets commence!

Cloud what?

Alright I know its a very basic and perhaps easy query to handle for many of you but for the uninitiated,its critical for me to expound.

Here it goes:

Cloud computing is a concept wherein multiple devices including computers,smartphones and tablets are connected through a real-time communication network(most commonly the internet) for a variety of purposes like sharing of services,resources,management of organization and the like.

I would like to point out that this definition is highly condensed.However if you seek a very detailed and technical definition,please refer to the following link: Wikipedia Cloud Computing Entry

What does it really mean,Sire?

Ah,now that’s a good question. We know what it means literally,but what is it conceptually?Let’s explore.

Cloud computing involves sharing of services on a very large scale. But network models like LAN,and WAN have been doing it for decades,so how come its different?The answer lies in the fact that the ‘cloud’ offers a great deal of new utilities and features,previously unheard of. As an example,you can host a single software on cloud and it will be available to as many people as you want to. On a network model like LAN, the physical interconnection of devices enables only the sharing of basic features like hardware resources and files. As in the example above,we can say that the cloud network is more closer to a virtual working environment,unconstrained by physical limitations. But that’s not all. It transcends many of the previously supposed boundaries,hence in the world of today,it’s being hailed as the next BIG thing.

History: The Fine-Grained Truth

It is true that the origin of the term ‘cloud’ with reference to computers is obscure. The closest explanation as to the choice of the word would be that just as a collection of a great number of objects at a distance appears to be a single mass,a collection of various services,apps and platforms appears as a cloud to the user devices. The cloud symbol was first brought into use by companies offering VPN(Virtual Private Network) in 1990s.

A famous quote by Professor John McCarthy(MIT’s centennial celebration in 1961):

Computation may someday be organized as a public utility,just as the telephone system is a public utility,”

Mr. McCarthy was a true visionary. His vision is close to realization in the world of today.

Cloud computing was essentially introduced into the collective conscience of the Internet by Amazon,back in 2006. Jeff Bezos saw the potential of offering hardware capacity as a service to others and thus launched his elastic compute cloud(EC2) service in August,2006. Whilst most people were sceptical of the viability and future prospects of his venture but as it turned out,it was a major success. What EC2 team did was they offered online hardware capacity at a certain fee(very economical at that time) and they supplied it over to the  network to you for purposes like hosting websites,managing network traffic and so on. They would construct data warehouses based on storage predictions from the existing market demands and lend its usage to the organisation or group requesting it. Additionally,they incorporated scalability,i.e, ability to handle variable traffic flow or to be precise, very heavy usage traffic flow. With this model,they took the hardware prerequisite for an online startup out of the equation. Hence they fared very well.Many companies like Adobe and Netflix benefited out of this service as the need to buy reliable,efficient and fast servers was quelled.  This is called IaaS[Infrastructure as a Service]. Since then,Amazon has renamed the service to Amazon Web Service(AWS).

Google introduced its App engine in 2008 which is an example of platform as a service(PaaS). They combined the concept of providing a platform for hosting and developing web Apps.

Since then,the field has seen many new entrants and a mass movement of companies shifting operations online using Cloud as the vehicle.

Cloud Structure and Types

What type of clouds exist?let’s see:

The above image excellently shows what the 3 distinct types of cloud computing mean. We have SaaS, PaaS, IaaS. We discussed the latter two. SaaS or software as a service implies providing the functionality of a software to the end users over the network without the requirement for the users to have a copy of the software on their terminal. A very good example is Google Docs, wherein you can view documents online and there is no need for having the Google Docs Software Engine to be present on your system(Note:you can’t obtain it,so don’t start googling!).

Another noteworthy point would be that cloud computing can also be classified based on the usage pattern and security levels like Private clouds,Internal clouds and external clouds.

The Structure

figure-2-cloud-computing-archictecture

Alright we’ll not go into too much technicality but let me give a basic idea:

Client software: The one that the user runs on his machine,e.g. web browser.

Middle-Environment:The platform over which the content has been hosted,dealing with details like language supported/used(Java,PhP),apps installed on the framework,type of framework etc.

Cloud Resources:Hardware(including physical space,servers),Virtual Machines ,Database etc.

To Infinity and Beyond!

We know what a cloud is,its historical background,its structure and its types. So,now what? That’s exactly the question that the industry is asking right now.What are the limits? Where are we headed?Are their any limitations? The current perception of this technology is that its a step in the right direction. If you can setup organisations by renting the resources rather than buying them, you have the power to compete with the Gods. With AWS for example, at a certain fee you can host your content on the cloud,run whole websites,manage them effectively and  scale your online operations to handle as many users as required. Considering the fact that Online presence for anyone has become critical these days,its a potential goldmine. Also the the whole structure can be protected in the most reliable of ways even allowing muti-tiered security. Hence your content remains safe too.

Its uses are as varied as its benefits. Many of the online education platforms like Coursera and edX use Cloud for hosting their content and services. Most blogs,social networking sites(Facebook) and e-mail sites(Gmail) use Cloud. Online transaction sites are using Clouds. Most web-apps and games are hosted on Clouds. So quietly Cloud Computing is entering our lives in more profound than ways we can imagine.

So,its all goody good,right? Yes and no. Why no? The primary reason remains that you might not want to relinquish control over all of your resources and capital to another firm like Amazon. Whether for privacy of your content,or not trusting another person with your sensitive resources, you may loose sleep over this reason. Secondly, you  become dependent on the vendor,effectively locked with them. Any downtime they experience,you’ll be getting it your way too ,if you desire to change to another vendor due to some reason,you’ll have a tough time.

Alas dilemma! Not really. For all the spots and freckles on its face,cloud computing gives you way more than what your capacity may be. So,right now we can safely assume the advantages of Cloud Computing outweigh its potential disadvantages. What about the future?We’re yet to fully understand the implication of this technology as of now. Just as Google’s search engine generated curiosity in 90s and turned up into an overlooking giant in the 2000s, the future,though bright is still filled with expectations and obstacles for this Tech. Let us wait then, and enjoy the Cloud filled sky for now!

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