Cloud Computing: From Capacity To Capability

Recently, at a CIO and IT SRummit in Mumbai, Rakesh Kumar, Research Vice President at Gartner said that analysts, “are seeing an acceleration of adoption of cloud computing and cloud services among enterprises, and an explosion of supply-side activity as technology providers maneuver to exploit the growing commercial opportunity. The potential benefits of cloud are a shift from ’capacity’ on demand to ‘capability’ on demand, a reduced cost of computing resources and a shift from technology use to ‘value’ consumption.”

The shift from capacity to capability marks the point that cloud computing shifts from being a good idea constrained by a lack of widespread acceptance to becoming an unobtrusive, practical, everyday part of our technological lives.

Cloud computing refers to the idea whereby computing power and storage is placed on a cloud of machines that may be physically removed from a local user or application. By distributing processing power and data requirements across very many machines, powerful computing tasks can be carried out that a single local computing device cannot perform.

Data is stored in the Cloud, which means it is on some server somewhere that is not necessarily known by the user and it is just there and accessible. Software and services are also moving to the Cloud, usually accessible via a full-featured web browser on the client device.

The PC era was hardware centric and the subsequent client-server era was more software centric. Cloud computing now abstracts that server and makes it very scalable, by hiding complexities. We can view this stage as being service-centric.

A present example: Banks have become “Clouds”, allowing people to go to any ATM and remove money from their bank wherever they are. Electricity can be thought of similarly, as it can come from various places, and you don’t have to know where it comes from – it just works.

Driving forces behind cloud-based computing include:

  • The falling cost of storage
  • Ubiquitous broadband
  • Democratisation of the tools of production

These factors point the way for cloud-based computing to be considered a utility.

There are five further properties that make this area exciting:

(1) User centric: The data moves with you, and the application moves with you. People don’t want to constantly have to reload their address book or applications on every new machines they acquire. It is time consuming and there is the potential for data to get lost.

Once you’re connected to the Cloud, any new PC or mobile device that can access your data becomes yours. Not only is the data yours, but you can share it with others, The browser is the platform.

(2) Task centric: The applications of the past; spreadsheets, email, calendar etc., are becoming modules, and can be composed and laid out in a task-specific manner.

(4) Accessible: Universal search in the Cloud will allow for better searches in specific categories, restaurants, images and so on. Conventional web search isn’t necessarily the best option as it often returns matches for a given term across different categories.

(5) Intelligent: Data mining and massive data analysis are required to give some intelligence to the masses of data available (massive data storage + massive data analysis = Google Intelligence).

In terms of benefits:

  • cloud computing needs new skills with concomitant job opportunities.
  • Entrepreneurs should have new opportunities with this paradigm shift, being freed from monopoly-dominated markets as more cloud-based companies evolve that are powered by open technologies.
  • Governments and large enterprises will be able to make only update to key software which will take effect across their whole network immediately thus saving enormous costs from the constant need to have to upgrade each and every machine.

As always, one has to beware of the hype. Cloud computing is not necessarily going to obviate the need for hard disks to be present on our computing devices whether they be desktop, laptop or mobile.

One criticism of cloud computing is that it makes many of the same claims as networked computing and networked desktops did in the 1990s (i.e. the theory that users would move to using computers with no hard drives, where all data would be stored elsewhere and would be available from any networked desktop that a user would choose to use). However, users still wanted control over their own desktops (in particular, having offline access to the data contained therein), and hence local storage is still a primary consideration when purchasing a computer.

However, having our information and applications in the Cloud gives us new opportunities to be able to share data and use programs that will allow us to collaborate and work together in new, productive and more efficient ways then what we have now.

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