Cloud Computing

A couple of weeks ago I participated in an interesting discussion on Cloud Computing at an unconference in Bangalore. Though the discussion was to be on “whether Cloud Computing is inevitable or not”, we hardly got past defining it! That just about demonstrates the confusion that surrounds Cloud Computing — it isn’t even clear what it’s supposed to be. It’s not for no reason that it has been referred to as Haze Computing!

I think everyone has a moral (:P) responsibility to add to the confusion. Only through such attempts can we achieve clarity. This post — an attempt to put in words, my understanding of what Cloud Computing is and is not — is a contribution to that end.

Read on…

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13 Comments

  1. Posted December 29, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Siddhartha,

    The definition of cloud computing does seem to be firming up to those three areas you mention. As those ideas spread, I think we’ll be seeing “cloud computing” used more as a very broad term to describe the field in general, and the IaaS/PaaS/SaaS distinction used for clarity.

    One other area that you did not mention is the proprietary nature of these systems. Was this discussed at the unconference? Are people concerned about vendor lock in?

    There are currently not many open source alternatives to the big players in the field, but one PaaS alternative is 10gen – http://www.10gen.com/. We’re currently in alpha and I encourage you and other developers to download our SDK and test it out (you can even run it on your laptop). We need developers to tell us what features and functionality they need now. We are also giving away space on our cloud during the alpha period free to developers.

    Contact me for more info.

    Shane – shane@10gen.com

  2. Posted December 30, 2008 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Siddhartha,

    I see the Cloud from a very different direction. That is not to say that your points are not interesting.

    Cloud Programming is the core technology to this evolution of server hosting.

    In the past you used your phone and a long conversations with sales and service desk people to set up a server. If you where lucky and had an in house server that could host your new toy you called IT or the internal department that set up servers in your .com.

    With the new Cloud Hosts you write code and interface with REST API designs that provide these services. They may be out sourced servers but in my mind that is not the important part of the Cloud Revolution.

    Today I can deploy a server or a server farm from my keyboard. The need to talk over the phone and arrange for a server to be set up for me in the server room is a thing of the past. Better than that I can create a deployment of servers that grows and shrinks based on rules in my code or deployment design.

    The rest of the point are all good and well stated, but it is ability to program the Cloud that changes the paradigm.

    Edward M. Goldberg
    http://Blog.EdwardMGoldberg.com

  3. Posted December 30, 2008 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Hi Shane,

    The proprietary nature of these systems was indeed discussed, although not for too long — everyone expressed their worries but nobody had anything more to say. The fear of lock-in is probably the biggest impediment to the widespread adoption of cloud computing. Developing using a standard framework and then having it deployed over the cloud is one way of avoiding such lock-in; the service offered by Heroku (Ruby on Rails Platform as a Service) is a good example of this.

    10gen seems very interesting, I’m surprised that I had not come across it before. I believe such efforts are essential for the future of cloud computing — apart from the obvious benefit of providing a non-proprietary platform, the wider adoption of such systems will increase competition thus kindling innovation and bringing down prices for the consumer. I’ll surely download and try it out.

  4. Posted December 30, 2008 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Edward,

    Thank you for your insight, I agree with it to a great extent. Easy, resizable, API-based deployment is indeed one of the biggest benefits that we’ve got out of the concept of cloud computing. But in my mind that is only an implication of cloud computing, not cloud computing in and itself. In fact, it is probably one of the more obvious outcomes. Cloud computing has the potential — definitely not yet fully realised — of going much beyond that. Storage provided as an API-based service, for example, is a radically new concept brought about by the advent of cloud computing and the semantics of it are so different that it is almost futile trying to compare it with any existing paradigm of computing.

    The benefits of cloud computing could go well beyond server technologies — Desktop/OS for a personal computer in the cloud might even be the Holy Grail! Imagine this: your personal computer is just a dumb terminal that fetches the Operating System from the cloud at boot time and uses the cloud as permanent storage (with local caching for quicker access). This idea might seem far-fetched but it is already being used by some DVRs such as TiVo (only the fetching OS from the cloud part). Widespread availability of high bandwidth is the only major hurdle before we can realise this dream.

  5. Posted January 7, 2009 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    I think you have a very good consolidation of what Cloud Computing means to developers, business owners, etc. However, I feel that the technicalities of PAAS vs. IAAS vs. SAAS are too in-depth for end-users/consumers to understand the usefulness of services that leverage cloud computing.

    Instead, I like to imagine cloud computing as utility computing. As brilliantly explained in the book “Big Switch”, cloud computing is transforming the computing industry in very similar ways to the electricity industry in the last century. As electricity went from being produced locally on-site at mills, factories, etc. to centrally at a power station and then fed through a global grid, it became a utility that end-users came to expect and rely on. Similarly, cloud computing will manifest the desktop and office apps that we see now as centrally/remotely hosted and maintained apps that people will use as utilities.

    I think eventually we will see enterprise-level services available to the end-users that are simple and truly plug-n-play. Similar to plugging in to the wall socket for electricity, end-users will be able to plug in to the next word processor, spreadsheet application, etc. and have it available at lowe cost without any limitations.

  6. Posted January 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Pras, that is indeed brilliantly said! The analogy fits almost perfectly.

  7. KanKan
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    very nice way of putting it, cos in my mind’s eye i hadn’t seen it as anything more than a fancy new paradigm of computer science..with large implications. i am only now, coming to understand the enormity of it all. if i were to write an article on cloud computing, what would be the best area to concentrate on?

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