March 7, 2011
by Mark Ollig
As a youngster, I would occasionally look skyward, gazing at the clouds and sometimes seeing the shapes of trees, animals or even favorite cartoon characters.
You are probably wondering why I have my head in the clouds again.
Little did I comprehend back then, a cloud would someday be called a place to work on web-based software programs in real-time.
No, not in those fluffy white clouds floating across the sky, but in the numerous “data farms” networked across the Internet landscape.
Google describes its own data center farms as large, specialized buildings containing many computers, which keep their services and products up and running.
“Because Google’s machines store these applications and the data associated with them, you can use these tools from anywhere, as long as you have an Internet connection,” said Google.
On our personal computers and business servers, we store our software programs, videos, Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos and more.
We do our normal computer housekeeping chores, such as performing regular backups.
We run our anti-virus software.
We purchase additional hard drives when we need more storage.
And, we continue to learn to be more computer literate.
Apparently, we are also placing more trust in cloud computing.
Look at how many of us are using web-based services from Google, for instance.
Cloud applications, such as Google’s G-mail has become a popular e-mail service.
To upload, save, and share photos, we can use Google’s cloud-based Picasa Web Albums, (which includes 1GB of free storage).
We are also using Google’s portion of the cloud when we upload and save videos on Google’s YouTube website.
Many of us make use of cloud computing when exploring the world using Google Maps.
We create and save Word documents using the online Google Docs program via cloud computing.
Google’s (in the cloud) data center farm facilities, are actually located across the US and around the world.
Its new data center farm, located in Mayes County, OK, will become operational at the end of this year, at a cost of $600 million. It will employ 100 people.
Google is one example of a company providing cloud computing services; there are others doing this, too.
Advantages of using cloud computing for individuals include:
• being able to access and work with your programs from any Internet connection.
• not having to purchase additional computer hardware and software.
• no need to upgrade software or run software virus protection programs on cloud-based applications.
• knowing your file data content is safely protected, continually backed-up and available from any computer you are using.
• no CDs are needed for anything.
One could also draw an analogy of the use of cloud computing services as comparable to how we use electricity today.
In a column yours truly wrote last year, I talked about Henry Burden, who, by 1851, had designed and constructed a water wheel to power the machines at his iron works factory in Troy, NY.
Many factories in the mid to late-1800s were also in the power creation business.
Maintaining this independent power utility operation required large capital expenditures, dedicated human resources, maintenance, and repair.
This type of self-generated power used by the factory would be similar to today’s business-owned and operated in-house computer system employing an IT (information technology) department.
By the early 20th century, it became more cost-effective to power factory machines using electricity delivered over wires from the new commercial power grids, versus constructing and maintaining water wheels or other independent power generation systems.
The move to cloud computing is analogous to the move to commercial electricity by factories in the early 1900s.
The term “cloud computing” is said to have originated during the initial days of computing network design.
Being there is so much interconnection on the Internet, network design engineer’s used a fluffy white cloud as the symbol to represent the Internet in their engineering network design diagrams.
The public Internet is considered the “networks of networks.”
If you have seen diagrams of the Internet, you might think it looks like some massive interstellar galaxy.
This particular galaxy, however, is meshed with countless routers, switches, hubs, data servers, and other devices. They are all interconnected and communicate with each other via special language protocols over fiber optics, copper wires, and wireless networks.
Some networks are privately- owned connections between companies or government entities.
The US Department of Defense has its own private Internet called SIPRNet, or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.
Classified information is securely sent via data packets over SIPRNet. This network is not accessible from the public Internet.
Businesses are switching from owning and maintaining their own internal networked computer hardware servers and software systems, to using Internet providers selling cloud computing services.
Microsoft’s latest business cloud computing package is called Office 365.
In the years to come, many computing processes we now perform on our personal computers will be accomplished via the power of the Internet cloud.
This week’s column was created, stored, and e-mailed from inside the cloud, using Google Docs and G-mail.