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Cloud Technology (Computing and Connection)

Cloud tech
(Last Updated On: August 28, 2017)

What is the cloud? Where is the cloud? Are we in the cloud now? These are all questions you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself. The term “cloud computing” is everywhere.

In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.

cloud

What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive. When you store data on or run programs from the hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. Everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy, for that one computer, or others on the local network. Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades; some would argue it’s still superior to cloud computing, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

The cloud is also not about having a dedicated network attached storage (NAS) hardware or server in residence. Storing data on a home or office network does not count as utilizing the cloud. (However, some NAS will let you remotely access things over the Internet, and there’s at least one brand from Western Digital named “My Cloud,” just to keep things confusing.)

For it to be considered “cloud computing,” you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synced with other information over the Web. In a big business, you may know all there is to know about what’s on the other side of the connection; as an individual user, you may never have any idea what kind of massive data processing is happening on the other end. The end result is the same: with an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.

Consumer vs. Business

Let’s be clear here. We’re talking about cloud computing as it impacts individual consumers—those of us who sit back at home or in small-to-medium offices and use the Internet on a regular basis.

There is an entirely different “cloud” when it comes to business. Some businesses choose to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. (Think Salesforce.com.) There’s also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don’t forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace provide a backbone that can be “rented out” by other companies. (For example, Netflix provides services to you because it’s a customer of the cloud services at Amazon.)

Of course, cloud computing is big business: The market generated $100 billion a year in 2012, which could be $127 billion by 2017 and $500 billion by 2020.

Cloud computing promises several attractive benefits for businesses and end users. Three of the main benefits of cloud computing include:

  • Self-service provisioning: End users can spin up computing resources for almost any type of workload on-demand.
  • Elasticity: Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and then scale down again as demands decrease.
  • Pay per use: Computing resources are measured at a granular level, allowing users to pay only for the resources and workloads they use.

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Cloud Structure

Cloud computing services can be private, public or hybrid.

Private cloud services are delivered from a business’ data center to internal users. This model offers versatility and convenience, while preserving management, control and security. Internal customers may or may not be billed for services through IT chargeback.

In the public cloud model, a third-party provider delivers the cloud service over the Internet. Public cloud services are sold on-demand, typically by the minute or the hour. Customers only pay for the CPU cycles, storage or bandwidth they consume.  Leading public cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM/SoftLayer and Google Compute Engine.

Hybrid cloud is a combination of public cloud services and on-premises private cloud – with orchestration and automation between the two. Companies can run mission-critical workloads or sensitive applications on the private cloud while using the public cloud for bursty workloads that must scale on-demand. The goal of hybrid cloud is to create a unified, automated, scalable environment which takes advantage of all that a public cloud infrastructure can provide, while still maintaining control over mission-critical data.

Although cloud computing has changed over time, it has always been divided into three broad service categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as service (SaaS).

IaaS providers such as AWS supply a virtual server instance and storage, as well as application program interfaces (APIs) that let users migrate workloads to a virtual machine (VM). Users have an allocated storage capacity and start, stop, access and configure the VM and storage as desired. IaaS providers offer small, medium, large, extra-large, and memory- or compute-optimized instances, in addition to customized instances, for various workload needs.

In the PaaS model, providers host development tools on their infrastructures. Users access those tools over the Internet using APIs, Web portals or gateway software. PaaS is used for general software development and many PaaS providers will host the software after it’s developed. Common PaaS providers include Salesforce.com’s Force.com, Amazon Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.

SaaS is a distribution model that delivers software applications over the Internet; these are often called Web services. Microsoft Office 365 is a SaaS offering for productivity software and email services. Users can access SaaS applications and services from any location using a computer or mobile device that has Internet access. 

Cloud clients

Users access cloud computing using networked client devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones and any Ethernet enabled device such as Home Automation Gadgets. Some of these devices—cloud clients—rely on cloud computing for all or a majority of their applications so as to be essentially useless without it. Examples are thin clients and the browser-based Chromebook. Many cloud applications do not require specific software on the client and instead use a web browser to interact with the cloud application. With Ajax and HTML5 these Web user interfaces can achieve a similar, or even better, look and feel to native applications. Some cloud applications, however, support specific client software dedicated to these applications (e.g., virtual desktop clients and most email clients). Some legacy applications (line of business applications that until now have been prevalent in thin client computing) are delivered via a screen-sharing technology.

Security

The biggest question most have with Cloud Computing is will it be Safe?

Answer: No

Reason why is everything that Cloud Computing is based on is mechanical, although it seems virtual. The Safety of the data (information), is only as Safe as the will and determination of the individual that wants to have at it.

Common Cloud Examples

The lines between local computing and cloud computing sometimes get very, very blurry. That’s because the cloud is part of almost everything on our computers these days. You can easily have a local piece of software (for instance, Microsoft Office 365) that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft OneDrive).

That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web-based apps, Office Online, that are Internet-only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote accessed via your Web browser without installing anything. That makes them a version of cloud computing (Web-based=cloud).

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Office Online

Some other major examples of cloud computing you’re probably using:

Google Drive:

This is a pure cloud computing service, with all the storage found online so it can work with the cloud apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Drive is also available on more than just desktop computers; you can use it on tablets like the iPad or on smartphones, and there are separate apps for Docs and Sheets, as well. In fact, most of Google’s services could be considered cloud computing: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on.

Apple iCloud:

Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage, backup, and synchronization of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device (Windows users have to install the iCloud control panel). Naturally, Apple won’t be outdone by rivals: it offers cloud-based versions of its word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote) for use by any iCloud subscriber. iCloud is also the place iPhone users go to utilize the Find My iPhone feature that’s all important when the handset goes missing.

Amazon Cloud Drive:

Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon, and images—if you have Amazon Prime, you get unlimited image storage. Amazon Cloud Drive also holds anything you buy for the Kindle. It’s essentially storage for anything digital you’d buy from Amazon, baked into all its products and services.

Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync

all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files online, but they also sync those files with local storage. Synchronization is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally.

Likewise, it’s considered cloud computing if you have a community of people with separate devices that need the same data synced, be it for work collaboration projects or just to keep the family in sync. For more, check out the The Best Cloud Storage and File-Syncing Services for 2016.

Cloud Hardware

Right now, the primary example of a device that is completely cloud-centric is the Chromebook. These are laptops that have just enough local storage and power to run the Chrome OS, which essentially turns the Google Chrome Web browser into an operating system. With a Chromebook, most everything you do is online: apps, media, and storage are all in the cloud.

chromebook-cloud-hardware

Chrome Book

Or you can try a  ChromeBit, a smaller-than-a-candy-bar drive that turns any display with an HDMI port into a usable computer running Chrome OS.

Of course, you may be wondering what happens if you’re somewhere without a connection and you need to access your data. This is currently one of the biggest complaints about Chrome OS, although its offline functionality (that is, non-cloud abilities) are expanding.

The Chromebook isn’t the first product to try this approach. So-called “dumb terminals” that lack local storage and connect to a local server or mainframe go back decades. The first Internet-only product attempts included the old NIC (New Internet Computer), the Netpliance iOpener, and the disastrous 3Com Ergo Audrey (pictured). You could argue they all debuted well before their time—dial-up speeds of the 1990s had training wheels compared to the accelerated broadband Internet connections of today. That’s why many would argue that cloud computing works at all: the connection to the Internet is as fast as the connection to the hard drive. (At least it is for some of us.)

Arguments Against the Cloud

In a 2013 edition of his feature What if?, xkcd-cartoonist (and former NASA roboticist) Randall Monroe tried to answer the question of “When—if ever—will the bandwidth of the Internet surpass that of FedEx?” The question was posed because no matter how great your broadband connection, it’s still cheaper to send a package of hundreds of gigabytes of data via Fedex’s “sneakernet” of planes and trucks than it is to try and send it over the Internet. (The answer, Monroe concluded, is the year 2040.)

Cory Doctorow over at boingboing took Monroe’s answer as “an implicit critique of cloud computing.” To him, the speed and cost of local storage easily outstrips using a wide-area network connection controlled by a telecom company (your ISP).

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Steve Wozniak

That’s the rub. The ISPs, telcos, and media companies control your access. Putting all your faith in the cloud means you’re also putting all your faith in continued, unfettered access. You might get this level of access, but it’ll cost you. And it will continue to cost more and more as companies find ways to make you pay by doing things like metering your service: the more bandwidth you use, the more it costs.

Steve WozniakMaybe you trust those corporations. That’s fine, but there are plenty of other arguments against going into the cloud whole hog. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak decried cloud computing in 2012, saying: “I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.”

In part, that comes from the potential for crashes. When there are problems at a company like Amazon, which provides cloud storage services to big name companies like Netflix and Pinterest, it can take out all those services (as happened in the summer of 2012). In 2014, outages afflicted Dropbox, Gmail, Basecamp, Adobe, Evernote, iCloud, and Microsoft; in 2015 the outtages hit Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, AOL, Level 3, and Google. Microsoft had another this year. The problems typically last for just hours.

Wozniak was concerned more about the intellectual property issues. Who owns the data you store online? Is it you or the company storing it? Consider how many times there’s been widespread controversy over the changing terms of service for companies like Facebook and Instagram—which are definitely cloud services—regarding what they get to do with your photos. There’s also a difference between data you upload, and data you create in the cloud itself—a provider could have a strong claim on the latter. Ownership is a relevant factor to be concerned about.

After all, there’s no central body governing use of the cloud for storage and services. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is trying. It created an IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative in 2011 to establish standards for use, especially for the business sector. The Supreme Court ruling against Aereo could have told us a lot about copyright of files in the cloud… but the court side-stepped the issue to keep cloud computing status quo.

Cloud computing—like so much about the Internet—is a little bit like the Wild West, where the rules are made up as you go, and you hope for the best.

The future

Cloud computing is therefore still as much a research topic, as it is a market offering. What is clear through the evolution of cloud computing services is that the chief technical officer (CTO) is a major driving force behind cloud adoption. The major cloud technology developers continue to invest billions a year in cloud R&D; for example: in 2011 Microsoft committed 90% of its US$9.6bn R&D budget to its cloud. Centaur Partners also predict that SaaS revenue will grow from US$13.5B in 2011 to $32.8B in 2016. This expansion also includes Finance and Accounting SaaS. Additionally, more industries are turning to cloud technology as an efficient way to improve quality services due to its capabilities to reduce overhead costs, downtime, and automate infrastructure deployment.

  • references

PCMag

Tech Target

WikiPedia

Wikinvest

  • Last Update 19 June 2016

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