Clearing Up Foggy Thinking On The Cloud

by Dan Cash

Those who know know that the cloud is going to be the next industry shake-up which redefines how we think about how we use computer technology. First it was the Apple Mac and desktop PC, windows became so ubiquitous that many people still believe that Bill Gates invented the internet, then came the i phenomena; the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

But why the cloud? What are the features and benefits and what are the drawbacks?

Most traditional businesses are naturally reluctant to join the cloud. Migrating all of your data to a secure site who won’t actually tell you how they go about storing your data (that’s part of the security you see, no-one has access to that information) and getting rid of all your hardware is a big step.

But you don’t have to do it all at once, give the cloud a trial with non essential, low security information and if you like it, send more and more. Once your computers no longer have to carry all of your legacy data you’ll be surprised how much more efficiently your computers can run when they don’t have all those saved files to run through whenever you need to search something out.

Something else that you’ll notice with your cloud services is that you have access to programs which, if you were buying off the shelf would be too expensive or otherwise beyond your company’s purchasing remit. Now they are available as cloud applications free or for a small subscription, using them means that with minimal investment your SME will be able to use state of the art industry leading products.

Provided you have a PC with internet access and the right passwords you can access all of the information that your corporation holds, no matter what size you are. I started using the cloud as a student as it meant that I could use any machine to update my academic texts. I didn’t have to worry if my laptop was stolen that I would lose all of my work, the same for memory sticks and external drives. No more burning CDs to archive all your paperwork, just put it on the cloud. Once it’s there, anyone you want to allow to access it can do so freely too, just tell them the pass word.

The cloud is a great equalizer according to Patrick Harr, Hewlett Packard’s VP of Global Cloud Strategy. It provides companies and end users access to user friendly services which would otherwise require large expenses for software, hardware and training. It also offers other resources for business that would otherwise be unimaginable. Harr said that DreamWorks used his corporation’s cloud for rendering. That’s a process which requires vast amounts of processing power, it’s such a drain that it can take the memory of thousands of computers. However, DreamWorks only produce a couple of movies each year, to buy the hardware that it would require to perform these tasks would be vastly expensive and inefficient as it’s only used intensively on a few occasions.

That’s fine for DreamWorks, why should you care? Well, if you are an SME who produce a video which goes viral taking hundreds of thousands of hits per day is going to make your servers crash in pretty short order. If that happens on the cloud your capacity expands to meet the demand in a process called scalable server virtualization , you could go from taking up a few K on a server somewhere to needing a bank of thousands of servers without your viewers seeing any difference in the service that they are receiving. Not making videos? Well, what about if you’re an online retailer who gets a link to your site published in the national news just before Christmas? An event like that would cripple most small retailers servers but if you’re on the cloud you can deal with it.

Microsoft report that they are currently dedicating 70% of their software development to cloud products and services; within the next year they expect that figure to ramp up to 90%. And with good reason. Google’s Chrome OS is cloud based and it’s already being hailed as the next stage in the evolution of OS and the way users interface with the ‘net.

Because Chrome is just a browser and interface it’s fast. From power up to surfing is 30 seconds. With a windows PC making the leap from a cold start to working on projects on the web can take up to ten minutes depending on how many programmes you have installed which all want to initialise on start up. Because everything is cloud based there is no need to download anything so there are no viruses or malware to worry about. If you’re a bit of a hoarder you may not like the cloud as it requires no downloads, indeed if, as I suspect many companies will, you migrate to the Chrome OS you won’t be able to download even if you want to.

Gamers might find that they don’t get on with Chrome so well and it doesn’t currently roll with iTunes but it can be expected that they’ll be able to resolve those issues as the OS is upgraded and improved.

One of the key drawbacks with working exclusively on the cloud is that it’s impossible to work uninterrupted if your connection is disturbed, even for a moment. If you’re using cable or you’re wireless is absolutely guaranteed then there isn’t a problem. If, on the other hand you’re on the move relying on public routers or some-one unplugs your wifi hub to plug the vacuum in you’ll find you can’t work until you log back in again.

It’s been projected that Chrome OS loaded PCs will be shipping in the hundreds of millions by the middle of next year so expect to be using one very soon.

Dan Cash is a feature writer currently researching the features that are offered by cloud computing companies