I look at clouds from both sides now

Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” single appeared on her “Clouds” album in 1969.

They say that if you remember the 60’s then you weren’t really there! True enough, I guess, at least in my case. Still, I do recall the lyrics of her song being amongst the most profound from that era. Simply type ‘lyrics both sides now’ into your Internet browser and see if you agree.

What does a song about clouds have to do with information technology? Cloud Computing, of course!  The term maybe relatively new, but the concept has been around for a while.

Scott McNealy, another Silicon Valley wunderkind and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is often credited1 with coining the phrase, “The network IS the computer”, way back in 1984. The man was my hero, not just for his brutally honest commentary, but also for Sun Microsystems powerful computers running UNIX, NOT Microsoft Windows. He once called Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, a “convicted monopolist”!

Another of his controversial quotes was about consumer privacy: “You have no privacy anyway. Get over it!” Controversial alright, more than a little relevant to the concept of Cloud Computing, and a lot closer to the truth than our politicians will have us believe.

So what is Cloud Computing?

The ‘Cloud’ represents a true shift in the way we will access, assimilate and work with information. In a way, it will make the traditional personal computer and notebook obsolete! Even devices like the Apple iPad, all the rage at the moment, will become just another commodity used to consume the services provided by the Cloud.

In a nutshell, computing as a ‘product’ in the traditional sense will be replaced by ‘services’ provided by the Cloud.

No more purchasing (or pirating) and installing of software on your computer. No more utilities to help ‘tune’ your computer to run faster, no need to backup your precious files, no need for virus/malware protection (maybe). In fact, any device capable of displaying content, connecting to the Internet and running a web browser (like Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc) will allow you to access your personal content in the Cloud. That includes the entertainment unit in your living room, the Internet enabled fridge in your kitchen, in-car/in-flight displays, smart phones, the kid’s educational (school) tablets, you name it.

You will most likely pay “by usage”, rather than by program. What the actual billing model will turn out to be is not yet clear, but one thing is certain: No need to buy a dedicated computer, buy software, pay someone to install it for you, fix it for you, re-install it for you…

The Cloud than is a vast network of computers, storage devices, servers, communication hubs and all manner of software; all owned, controlled and offered as services by ‘Cloud Services Providers’ via the Internet. In a sense, the Cloud is the Internet and the Internet is the Cloud.2

Remember Scott McNealy’s 1984 statement: “The network IS the computer”?

The man was a visionary alright! What about his controversial comment regarding privacy? I’ll try to explore that important topic in next month article.

1 The phrase was actually coined by John Gage, McNealy’s chief researcher at Sun Microsystems.

2 For those with a technical bent, Cloud Services are generally ‘hosted’ in ‘virtualised’ server environments in large data centres.

A virtualised server environment is one in which the traditional hardware based server software is run purely in a ‘software environment’ (virtual server hardware). The main advantage is ‘scalability’, i.e. the ability to add computing power (real server hardware) to the virtual server environment, to cope with fluctuations in demand.    

A data centre is a dedicated ‘server farm’, comprising not only lots of server computers, but a safe environment for these server to run. Data centres are usually located in earthquake free, flood proof areas, with uninterruptible supply of power, automated (failsafe) data backup systems and connected to the Internet via multiple data transport technologies (fibre optics, micro wave, etc.).