Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing is the use of the Internet to provide software and storage services to users.

It's probably best to explain Cloud Computing as a series of examples or use cases.

Cloud Computing as a diagram. Click to zoom.


A couple of years ago, if any self-respecting company wanted a website, they would spend small fortune to host and maintain the website at their own expense, on their own servers.

Modern companies are a little smarter than that.

They hire another company to host their site. Hosting companies like Media Temple and the innovative Amazon Web Services host the sites of some of the major worldwide companies (a look at Media Temple's client list is like a who's who of major international companies).

Always-on File Storage

A personal favourite of mine.

Modern users don't use just one device; it's common to have a tower-based PC, a laptop for portability, a tablet, and a smartphone.

Up until a few years ago, having your files with you meant you had to carry around a USB stick with you, and remembered to keep the most recent file on it. It meant that if you forgot the USB stick, you were SOL.

I can't work today boss. The files are on my other computer.

That excuse just won't cut it anymore.

Services like Dropbox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google Drive, and others, mean that you no longer need to physically carry all your files on you — you always have the latest versions of whatever files you need. They're just there

Web Apps

You aren't always able to edit a document on your own computer. You sometimes need to edit it from another computer. Sometimes, you need a friend or colleague to quickly add some things to the doc you're currently working on.

You don't need to edit a document locally. You don't need to edit that photo on your computer. You can use a web app.

Web apps are app-style websites that live inside your web browser. You get the same exact experience on just about any computer. Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), Microsoft Office 365, and others are great for this.

Keep Note of Everything

Another personal favourite of mine. You sometimes need to take a quick note of something while you're on the go. Whether it's saving a phone number, recording a song, taking notes in class, and so on.

Naturally, you recorded your note with whatever you had on you at the time. Be it your phone, your laptop, whatever. Cloud computing means that you can store all your notes in one place. It's about things, about your notes, and always having access to all of them. Evernote and Springpad are great for this.


So, what are the advantages of cloud computing?

  • Hosting your site on someone else's servers is significantly cheaper than doing it yourself. Amazon's cloud services host an incredible 1% of the internet.
  • It's much simpler to get up and running.
  • Someone else does the heavy lifting: There is still a physical nature to the cloud. Servers still need to be maintained, they still need to be cooled, powered, etcetera. A big hosting company that specialises in these services will be better optimisation, better econonomies of scale, and is far more environmentally friendly.
  • You always have your files and things with you, wherever you are.
  • You can take notes, edit documents and photos, read your mail, and more. From any computer. And you'll always get the exact same experience. You'll work with the same files.
  • Best of all, you won't even have to think about it. It's just there.


Naturally, there are a few drawbacks that we should be aware about, before we sign off into a clouded world.

  • We need fat pipes. You always need an internet connection. Without a connection, you simply can't work. In most cases, you can't work without the internet anyway.
  • Web apps are generally built to take your bandwidth and connection speed for granted. Uploading a photo costs bandwidth. Even editing a document online sometimes requires a broadband connection. It isn't always available in every corner of the globe.
  • Privacy issues. Yes, web apps and file storage services lay claims to being very secure and proper when it comes to storing your data. But the simple fact is, your data is in more than one place: on your computer and on their servers. Companies like Dropbox make easy targets for hackers. We have to just hope they won't suffer a data leak.
  • Your data is less permanent. What if your hosting company goes bust? What if you had a couple of videos on MegaUpload? If the company goes, your data goes with it.
  • Law is a sticky subject. Consider: an American company hosting content that is illegal in China. Which laws apply? Can the Chinese government sue the American hosting company? Does the US government ask the hosting company to take the content down (and is that constitutional)? Law is a sticky subject in cloud computing.
  • One of the nicest things about the internet is its general decentralisation. The internet isn't stored in one big place. It's distributed. It's all around the world. With big hosting companies, the internet is being centralised. The problem with this is that if one of the hosting companies suffers an outage (power cut? Terrorist attack?), then a large proportion of the internet is likely to be affected. Just two weekends ago, Amazon went down to a simple power cut, and services like Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest all went down with it.


Cloud Computing is great. It's responsible for so many advancements, and has completely transformed our personal and work lives. Things are just easier now.

Of course, one must consider the drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, until we have high-speed broadband links all over the globe, cloud computing will have to remain in the realm of developed countries.

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