A Cloudy Outlook…Clarified

Hello happy reader,

No, I’m not talking about the economy…I was parked at the Cloud Connect conference in Mountain View, home of the electronics industry. Since “the Cloud” was on my mind, it became the latest topic of The Bitstream. I started this post right after the show but, rather than a new topic, I’m amending this posting on February 1st to keep the whole more cogent and digestible.

What is Cloud Computing? Essentially, it’s any on–demand computing service or process that is provided via public or private IP networks rather than via your LAN. That’s a mighty vague or shall we say, cloudy, definition so, these days cloud–based services are largely restricted to five main classes of services. Most all are fee–based, though many provide some free starter package to get you hooked.

The five classes are storage, virtualized host computing, database management, security and CRM/ERP. Think of cloud–based or cloud storage as überNAS (network–attached storage); elastic, self–healing storage on The Network, with no admin headaches. Elastic refers to the ability to automagically scale the amount of storage up or down, on the fly, according to your needs. With a few exceptions, cloud–based storage is file level, not block level.

Think of the second class, virualized hosts, as software that presents to your APIs what appears to be hosting hardware. A bit hard to grok, no? OK, imagine a physical host computer, say a beige box running Linux or Windows, sitting in a server room somewhere and attached to the internet through a firewall. Your web site is running on that box. Unless your a big company or a geek with a need for busy work, you’ll forgo that and hire some company to “host” your web site. The hosting provider instead owns the beige box, some anonymous server in some data center, and your web site runs on their server for a monthly or annual fee. To the site visitor, there’s no appreciable difference. Fo you, there are no maintenance headaches. In addition, that nice hosting company can also bundle ecommerce, database, e–mail and other services as part of their package.

Right, nothing too mysterious there…Now, image that there is no physical beige box. It’s been replaced by “instances” of software that pretend to be physical servers, just like what Xen, VMWare, Microsoft and Parallels sells. These virtual servers are available as on–demand, pay–as–you–go, elastic computing resources that you can exploit any way you want within the limitations of the hosted operating system you choose…Not too shabby, eh? This same concept of virtualized services extends to the remaining classes of cloudness; database management, security/DR and CRM/ERP.

Ten years ago, cloud computing had another label, “ASP” or Application Service Provider. These included B2B companies such as Noosh, a “managed services” provider for print production,” myCIO.com, an enterprise security and availability provider now part of McAfee, and BroadVision, a “global provider of personalized self-service web applications.” In those day, there were also SSPs or Storage Service Providers, what we now call Cloud Storage providers. Finally there were, and still are, CDNs or Content Delivery Networks. These folks include AkamaiLimelight Networks and Speedera, now part of Akamai. All these classes of business are now grouped under the Cloud rubric.

Since the 90’s, Amazon and Google have flourished in this new software–as–king landscape and are now leaders in cloud computing. They both provide a multitude of computing services, including raw data storage, virtualized compute resources, Google Maps, and Amazon’s wacky but sensible Mechanical Turk web service, described by one of their geeks as “artificial Artificial Intelligence.” In each case, the end user accesses these services through various APIs or web browser UIs via the public internet.

OK, let’s look at two examples that are germane to content creators…One is Hobnox, a German “online entertainment and publishing platform” that combines content hosting with content creation tools. One of their services is Audiotool, with live recording of audio tracks…“Choose your set-up, add, remove and arrange the devices you need and record your track to the ‚myFiles’ section of your Hobnox account. From there, publish and share.” They have both English and Deutsch versions. They’re even running a contest for “attractive prizes!”

Another example is Animoto, a heuristics–driven, web–based service that automagically combines your still images with music (yours or theirs) into a tasty movie, It analyzes the images and music, then creates a unique animated movie from your content. The process if non–deterministic so, even if you uploaded the same content again, you’d get a different resulting movie. Once your video is baked, you can share it on common social site or render a high res version for a fee. Now, the geeky part of this is that they’re using AWS, Amazons Web Services, to do all the heavy lifting, compute–wise. Instead of building a server farm, they farm out their computations to AWS, which automatically scales up or down, depending on demand.

On demand: that’s exactly what cloud computing, SaaS (Software as a Service) or whatever the heck you wanna call it is all about. Computing as a utility, with that pay–as–you–go pricing model I mentioned earlier. Granted, many cloud services are, in some form or fashion, free but, even the for–pay services are usually very reasonably priced. They have to be to compete with locally running, “I own this here license,” old school software examples. There is still a good deal of FUD surrounding cloud services due to privacy, vendor lock–in and business continuity issues but, over time, we consumers of computing services will eventually embrace the paradigm and make cloud computing just another ho hum set of tools in our kit.

BTW, the Cloud Connect conference was big on verbiage, blatantly hawking the wares of the sponsors, and rather small on substantive content. Oh well, it’s to be expected but I was disappointed at the total lack of discussion of anything outside the sponsor’s offerings. Final score: C+

Speaking of digestible, it’s time for breakfast…Ciao and, until next time, thanks for visiting and continue to geek!

One Response to “A Cloudy Outlook…Clarified”

  1. Hallo hoppy readers,

    Just came across a good example of a highly specific web service, a subset of cloud computing…Lovely Charts is a site that provides charting tools for flow charts, org charts, site maps, etc. All this in your favorite browser.

    Unlike another web service provider, Zoho, Lovely Charts is a one trick pony. Zoho , on the other hand, tries to be all things to all people. I kinda like the one trick pony myself…what do you think?