You are hearing about it more and more: 'Cloud Computing'. Is it online storage? Is it virtual services? Cloud computing is a bit like html5. If you ask five people what it is... you get five answers. I was even unclear about which category to publish this article under because cloud computing serves any and all activity on the Web.
Wikipedia has a great definition: "Cloud computing is Internet based computing whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid".
Information is provided to computers and devices? I thought it was provided to people; us.
We regularly hear about cloud computing, in the news, in the media, business projections. With the ever decreasing cost of data storage and the ever increasing need to have applications available to everyone all the time, some consider cloud computing the use of virtual servers. For some it is simply a metaphor for the Internet. This software or data you are accessing is 'in the Cloud' instead of in your home or workplace.
I see an interesting article in Infoworld where the author attempts to break down the cloud concept into five major services and describes them. This article coins some 'Cloud' specific offerings such as Saas (software as a service) and differentiates this from 'utility computing'. This is useful but this article misses some of the high level, quite simple and common sense realities of 'Cloud computing'.
There is now a layer and array of services and applications available to consumers that simply never existed before. This might be the first step toward blurring the concept because large service providers, large data managers have offered 'virtual services' for decades. It is true that now they can take advantage of greater distribution, instantaneous broadband speed, and infinite storage but the idea of a data center in Utah managing your payroll is nothing new.
When did you do your first online purchase, nervously keying in your credit card information? Now we wonder how we managed our affairs without online banking, Amazon shopping, and real estate browsing. It's difficult to pin down exactly what happened and what change brought this about but a lot of things happened.
I remember seeing an interview about ten years ago with Bill Gates being questioned about 'Google'. He was actually chuckling when he replied, 'after all, it's just a search engine'.
We forget how clumsy most of these services were in the beginning. We forget that when we made a mistake in a online form, we couldn't simply click the back arrow and correct it. We forget how linear most processes were, that once you filled your shopping basket, you checked out! There was no going back to browse some more, and certainly not change your mind and change the contents of your basket.
Service and technology follow significant usage and you could say this development paying off had a symbiotic relationship with it's own development. The more people shopped online, the smarter and more trouble free the process became, which in turn opened up new possibilities in online shopping, which in turn were further refined. Now the stores know our names and favorite cold drink.
How may people use Gmail? or YouTube? or Vimeo or so many of the other ostensibly free online services without even getting into the world of social services. There is a cloud out there for sure. I am sure there are some specialists who can tell us just what kind of 'cloud services' exist.
What is clear is that in little more than ten years after the advent of the Web, the internet morphed from a niche gathering of geeks, to the place where America goes... for everything. Just like we have used telephones and televisions all our lives without really knowing or caring exactly how they work, we now have a 'cloud' that places products, services, and information at our fingertips, all the time. Its in the cloud.