Wednesday Jul 01, 2009

Cloud Computing for Friends and Family

While my job responsibilities remain essentially the same for now, our team was recently "re-org'd" into the Cloud Computing Marketing group at Sun. As such, I quickly learned that to those outside of our industry, they usually have no idea what I'm talking about when I say I'm in the "Cloud Computing" group. "Cloud" is of course the buzz word at the moment, but it's still not a term that has permeated much outside the tech realm. My colleague, Neave Connolly, was facing the same challenges describing "Cloud" to her friends and family, so she undertook some research to look for a good, simple definition we could use for the non-techies in our lives (yes, this means you, Mom ;).

Neave found some great information so I thought I would summarize and share.

First, though, I often lead with the "utilities" analogy, as that usually helps. (Remember when Cloud Computing was pretty much "Utility Computing" a few years ago?) It goes like this: When electricity was first invented, companies would have to build their own power plants and hire their own electrical engineers to manage them. After time, electricity became a utility, and companies were no longer burdened with providing it themselves. Computing is (in theory, at least) following a similar pattern. Why should every company have to build their own data center and hire their own system administrators? Why not buy computing as a utility delivered over the Internet, just as electricity flows through wires into our factories, offices, and homes?

And that brings us to the Cloud Computing articles for those who'd like to understand a bit more...

All the articles basically define and describe these key attributes of CC:

  1. CC is sold on demand. In many cases, you might only need a credit card to buy computing power and services.
  2. It is "scalable" and "elastic," meaning you can use as much or little capacity as you need, there is no upper limit on what you can use, and you pay only for what you use (just like electricity).
  3. It is provided as a service, fully managed by the provider. The customer need not know "what's behind the curtain," just that they are getting a service that meets their needs. (Sticking with the analogy, do you know what power plant provides your electricity? And even if you did, do you know how many generators are in it, what their capacity is, etc.? Do you care?)
  4. The "Cloud" is shared. Multiple users may be serviced from the same infrastructure and systems (virtualization being one key, but that's another tricky definition I don't want to get into right now!). 
  5. It's Internet based. All services are managed and provided over the Internet using Internet standards and protocols (though as a still-evolving technology, there are bound to be new CC-specific standards emerging over time).

There are many interesting debates ongoing about what is or isn't CC, how does or doesn't it differ from "older" technologies like Grid and Utility Computing, where's the line between "public," "private," and "hybrid" clouds, etc. It just points to the youthfulness of this technology, while the huge amount of interest, attention, and debate (within our industry, at least) point to the almost unlimited potential this "paradigm shift" in computing holds. Will company data centers go the way of company owned power plants? We'll find out in time, but meanwhile, you hopefully have a better idea of what is meant by "Cloud Computing"!

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About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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