Clouds in the Sky
"All your data will be available from the cloud, and you'll be able to push the data from the cloud to your device and back". That was the claim that several technology magnates were making a few years back. But here we are in 2009, and the "cloud" still seems like an ethereal concept that technology people throw around to bring about "the future". So, let's start with the basics; what is cloud computing? And more importantly, why does it matter to you?
Chances are, you've used the concept of cloud computing if you've ever done anything related with BitTorrent, Skype or P2P programs. Cloud computing is much like grid computing in the sense that rather than having data stored on one specific server that a website or web application will always go back to, the data is stored in the dream-like "cloud", where many networked servers share an amount of space (in bytes) that can't really be fathomed.
Your information on a site like FaceBook or MySpace is rarely ever on a single server, but rather up in "the cloud", or hopping around as bits and pieces in several networked servers. Once you ask your web browser to pull up your information, it reconstructs the old data along with the new data by "pushing" the data from the cloud onto your PC. If this concept is a little complicated to grasp, think of it like an electric company that provides you electricity. In this case, "the cloud" is like the electric company, your data is like the electricity and your request for the data is like the turning on of a light switch. Once you turn the light switch, your electricity comes in from the local power grid and powers your lights - the same concept works for data inside the cloud.
The comparison of an electric company is also apt when talking about why cloud computing is such a profitable business that's most assuredly here to stay. In order to better explain this, let's take a huge company (and by huge, I mean take-over-the-world huge) like Google. Google has grown to such proportions that their data centers can handle much more than their own business. To that effect, they have started "leasing" out their data services in the way of cloud computing. By allowing several websites to use their data centers, they ensure that websites can maintain a theoretically infinite number of users all while not having to create new infrastructure.
For a company like MySpace or FaceBook, this technology is pivotal because they pay for server space in the same way that they would pay for electricity or water to their respective headquarters. In that sense, building a website from the ground up becomes something incredibly easy for start-up companies - all they would have to do to start the next web craze would be to rent server space in the cloud from a company like Google.
This raises issues of legality though. Is your data secure once it's in the cloud? What will happen if someone should access that huge cloud of data? The issue of whether or not your data is safe in the cloud truly comes down to passing laws that would finally civilize the "Wild West" that currently is the Internet. By passing better laws with regards to this new domain of the cloud, it could be that data found in these cloud servers could finally be federally regulated (in a good way).
Furthermore, issues are raised about whether or not cloud software would be open or closed source. Those closest to the Linux community and favoring open-source software say that without the open source software, the cloud will wither away under the reign of corporations. Of course, said corporations also want a slice of the pie - realizing that offering a utility service is the best way to maintain a thriving business in a future that will require the Internet at every turn.
In our next article, we'll talk about what cloud computing means for investors and why the cloud is the next wave in important investments for large corporations.