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Cloud Computing, real deal or hype?

So what is the buzz all about? While cloud computing is too new an idea to be constrained by definition, we could describe it as an infrastructure with massive array of scalable compute power and scale-out storage with the ability to let customers run applications on demand inside this shared infrastructure, somewhat similar to how we plug into a power grid to run coffee machines and others appliances at home. I quite like the analogy – it gives us a comfortable feeling that this “cloud computing hype” has the potential to be the next wave in computing or better still the on-demand grid for computing.

Amazon, Google and IBM were the first to really put cloud computing out in the public eye. Amazon came out with their Storage-as-a-Service for small businesses with their S3 and EC2 services offering compute and storage for a metered rate. Google came out with the idea of allowing third parties to run massively parallel applications on the Google compute cloud. IBM introduced their Blue Cloud initiative targeted at a similar audience of people looking to build new types of applications that require public access to a massive shared grid of compute nodes. Amazon, Google and IBM are living a new idea – or at least are talking about a new way of democratizing the technology

Cloud is cool.

For clarity, let us not confuse cloud computing with other terms that are doing the rounds of buzzword town viz. SaaS, Storage-as-a-Service, Managed Backup Service or Web 2.0. SaaS is a scalable and highly available application that runs on a shared infrastructure of the service providers’ network through a web interface similar to Salesforce.com and Google Apps. It is different from ASP's where the customer rents computing infrastructure dedicated to them like Oracle Apps or SAP's hosting service.

SaaS is different and a new way of offering software on shared resources, but is not to be confused with cloud computing as only those applications available that the provider chooses to provide. I am hoping that the cloud in the future would be a super set of all of the above services, with Web 2.0 stitching it all together to take collaboration and interaction over the web to a new level.

In this eternally optimistic world, for everything new and different, we may ask – why won't this work today? It’s all about connectivity – speed and quality of Internet access for one (I think this one is getting there in the ME), user experience of the applications themselves (with Web 2.0 this should be not such a big problem), reliability (having an always on and available high quality Internet connection), offline access (this will be solved over time with some vendors demonstrating offline capability) and most important, security.

I guess the key point to overwhelming adoption of cloud would be the factor of security. Until we find a way of encrypting data on a cloud effectively, it will be one to ponder over for a while.

Evolving standards in providing security services and data encryption technologies would solve this problem in time, coupled with a paradigm shift in the way we view service providers and their capability in securing information over shared infrastructure …. after all we are still comfortable about keeping our money in a bank ….…

I am reminded of Nicholas Carr's book “The Big Switch” where he said “A hundred years ago, companies stopped producing own power and plugged into the newly built electric grid… Today a similar revolution is under way as companies dismantle their private computer systems and tap into rich services delivered over the Internet. Computing is turning into a utility.”

I don’t think we are very far away from that reality with cloud computing.

Cloud computing is inevitable …….

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