Introduction to How Cloud Computing Works
Let's say you're an executive at a large corporation. Your particular responsibilities include making sure that all of your employees have the right hardware and software they need to do their jobs. Buying computers for everyone isn't enough -- you also have to purchase software or software licenses to give employees the tools they require. Whenever you have a new hire, you have to buy more software or make sure your current software license allows another user. It's so stressful that you find it difficult to go to sleep on your huge pile of money every night.
What makes up a cloud computing system? Find out in the next section.
When talking about a cloud computing system, it's helpful to divide it into two sections: the front end and the back end. They connect to each other through a network, usually the Internet. The front end is the side the computer user, or client, sees. The back end is the "cloud" section of the system.
A central server administers the system, monitoring traffic and client demands to ensure everything runs smoothly. It follows a set of rules called protocols and uses a special kind of software called middleware. Middleware allows networked computers to communicate with each other.
Cloud computing is closely related to grid computing and utility computing. In a grid computing system, networked computers are able to access and use the resources of every other computer on the network. In cloud computing systems, that usually only applies to the back end. Utility computing is a business model where one company pays another company for access to computer applications or data storage.
What are some of the applications of cloud computing? Keep reading to find out.
The applications of cloud computing are practically limitless. With the right middleware, a cloud computing system could execute all the programs a normal computer could run. Potentially, everything from generic word processing software to customized computer programs designed for a specific company could work on a cloud computing system.
Some of the companies researching cloud computing are big names in the computer industry. Microsoft, IBM and Google are investing millions of dollars into research. Some people think Apple might investigate the possibility of producing interface hardware for cloud computing systems.
· Clients would be able to access their applications and data from anywhere at any time. They could access the cloud computing system using any computer linked to the Internet. Data wouldn't be confined to a hard drive on one user's computer or even a corporation's internal network.
· It could bring hardware costs down. Cloud computing systems would reduce the need for advanced hardware on the client side. You wouldn't need to buy the fastest computer with the most memory, because the cloud system would take care of those needs for you. Instead, you could buy an inexpensive computer terminal. The terminal could include a monitor, input devices like a keyboard and mouse and just enough processing power to run the middleware necessary to connect to the cloud system. You wouldn't need a large hard drive because you'd store all your information on a remote computer.
· Corporations that rely on computers have to make sure they have the right software in place to achieve goals. Cloud computing systems give these organizations company-wide access to computer applications. The companies don't have to buy a set of software or software licenses for every employee. Instead, the company could pay a metered fee to a cloud computing company.
· Servers and digital storage devices take up space. Some companies rent physical space to store servers and databases because they don't have it available on site. Cloud computing gives these companies the option of storing data on someone else's hardware, removing the need for physical space on the front end.
· Corporations might save money on IT support. Streamlined hardware would, in theory, have fewer problems than a network of heterogeneous machines and operating systems.
· If the cloud computing system's back end is a grid computing system, then the client could take advantage of the entire network's processing power. Often, scientists and researchers work with calculations so complex that it would take years for individual computers to complete them. On a grid computing system, the client could send the calculation to the cloud for processing. The cloud system would tap into the processing power of all available computers on the back end, significantly speeding up the calculation.
Cloud computing could turn home computers into simple terminal interfaces. In some ways, this is a step backward. Early computers included hardwired user terminals. Each terminal had a computer monitor and keyboard, but they only served as an interface to the main computer. There was no way to store information locally on a terminal.
While the benefits of cloud computing seem convincing, are there any potential problems? Find out in the next section.
Perhaps the biggest concerns about cloud computing are security and privacy. The idea of handing over important data to another company worries some people. Corporate executives might hesitate to take advantage of a cloud computing system because they can't keep their company's information under lock and key.
The counterargument to this position is that the companies offering cloud computing services live and die by their reputations. It benefits these companies to have reliable security measures in place. Otherwise, the service would lose all its clients. It's in their interest to employ the most advanced techniques to protect their clients' data.
Privacy is another matter. If a client can log in from any location to access data and applications, it's possible the client's privacy could be compromised. Cloud computing companies will need to find ways to protect client privacy. One way is to use authentication techniques such as user names and passwords. Another is to employ an authorization format -- each user can access only the data and applications relevant to his or her job.
There are a few standard hacker tricks that could cause cloud computing companies major headaches. One of those is called key logging. A key logging program records keystrokes. If a hacker manages successfully to load a key logging program on a victim's computer, he or she can study the keystrokes to discover user names and passwords. Of course, if the user's computer is just a streamlined terminal, it might be impossible to install the program in the first place.
Some questions regarding cloud computing are more philosophical. Does the user or company subscribing to the cloud computing service own the data? Does the cloud computing system, which provides the actual storage space, own it? Is it possible for a cloud computing company to deny a client access to that client's data? Several companies, law firms and universities are debating these and other questions about the nature of cloud computing.
How will cloud computing affect other industries? There's a growing concern in the IT industry about how cloud computing could impact the business of computer maintenance and repair. If companies switch to using streamlined computer systems, they'll have fewer IT needs. Some industry experts believe that the need for IT jobs will migrate to the back end of the cloud computing system.
Another area of research in the computer science community is autonomic computing. An autonomic computing system is self-managing, which means the system monitors itself and takes measures to prevent or repair problems. Currently, autonomic computing is mostly theoretical. But, if autonomic computing becomes a reality, it could eliminate the need for many IT maintenance jobs.