postheadericon ECS: The Cloud on Your Horizon

The “cloud” is a relatively new term floated about by computer scientists and product marketers alike, but is a concept both bold and just over the horizon for all of us who own a computer, tablet, smartphone or gaming device.
Cloud computing can best be described by using your imagination...imagine that your computer, i-device, or any of your gadgets that hold data and software applications - no longer does! In cloud computing, all of that is stored somewhere mysterious, somewhere far away, and in most cases, on a server farm in rural North America.

Your computing device then becomes nothing more then a simple web browser, much like the new Google Chromebook, which is a netbook sans what you would traditionally call software packages: programs that need installing, updating, and tender loving software-care. All that you generate and ingest (photos, movies, documents, spreadsheets, and more) are not homed on this revolutionary new device, but off in the “cloud” instead.

While computer scientists have been talking about this for decades, its just recently that cloud computing has become a reality – and many of you are already doing it without even knowing about it. Take for example Gmail and Hotmail, two prime examples of the first mainlined cloud applications, where all your data – as well as the interface into that data - is stored online and accessed via a simple web browser of your choosing, and at a location of your choosing as well (home, work, cybercafé, etc.)

“Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint.” 

— Don Marquis, American Poet, 1901 

But a lot more “clouds” are about to be mainstreamed...take for example Apple’s new iCloud offering, announced and due out this fall. In this brave new Apple world, items purchased from the online iTunes store, stay online – in your account – and are instantly synchronized with every other Apple device that you may own. For example, your iMac, Macbook Air, iPad2, or even your lowly iPod Nano is simultaneously and instantly filled with your purchases or up-loaded additions. No more mp3 files to store or accidently delete, and if you buy a new device, no problem, your music instantly appears there as soon as you sign in to iTunes in the cloud.

Another cloud example from software giant Microsoft is starting to rain down now on the masses as well, with both Xbox 360 and Office 365 being rolled out soon.

In both cases, applications (Xbox Titles, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) as well as the data that goes along them (your high scores, Word files, Presentations, Spreadsheets, etc.) are all stored in one of Microsoft’s huge cumulous clouds, where not only you have access, but your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow gamers do as well.

But there are many critics of this new direction in computing, and they all forecast doom and gloom. Just a few short years ago, Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle) called cloud computing "fashion-driven" and "complete gibberish". Yet just last year Oracle released it’s highly acclaimed Exalogic machine, a high-powered "cloud in a box,” which is reported to be selling like hotcakes today.

GNU founder and tech author Richard Stallman calls cloud computing “a trap,” and "Stupidity... It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign." But then again, Stallman also believes that the US Government is encouraging the use of cloud computing because this allows them to access your data without needing a search warrant.

But regardless of your tin-hat conspiracy leanings, criticism of cloud computing boils down to two valid points: 1) you no have physical control of your media, whether that be a game or a shopping list, and 2) you are totally dependent on Internet access for all that you put in the cloud.

For us in Nepal, dependence on service providers like NTC and World Link is risky, as we could be in a world of hurt if when we need our monthly budget reports or photos to send to grandma, that we can’t get to them because of network congestion or “sun spots” - as often cited by World Link as a reason their Internet service goes down.

But there is no denying that the forecast for the future is indeed full of clouds, coming over the horizon swiftly in one form or another, from complete devices dependent on them (Google’s Chromebook) to new services like iCloud and Xbox 360, where your “most precious” is no longer on earth next to you, but instead, flowing to and from the cloud.

First published in ECS Living, Issue 56, Aug - Sept 2011


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I'm retired, and I walk my dog... a lot.

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