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Cloud Computing Evolution May 10, 2012

Posted by mattpassini in Cloud Computing.
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Cloud computing has been at the forefront of media attention for quite some time, and it shows no signs of diminishing.  A few of the hottest arguments in the tech world focus around what is cloud computing, is it something new, and does it deserve all the hype?

In order to understand the situation and properly analyze the arguments, one must first understand a bit of computing history.  About 50 years ago in the Mainframe era, dummy terminals would connect to a centralized mainframe, where the actual computation and storage took place.  The dummy terminals were simply an access point where an end-user would utilize software on the local machine to request the mainframe to process and/or return data to be displayed back on the local machine.  Fast forward to the Personal Computing age, where each computer had enough physical resources to handle local computing and storage.  Applications were installed locally on each PC, where the vast majority of computation and storage would take place.  The Internet era came next, where the entire idea was to access data that is stored on servers placed throughout the world via a public network called the Internet.  As broadband access to the Internet increased, so too did its everyday capabilities.  High-speed connections between browsers and public facing servers allowed the browser to request the server to process and transmit large amounts of data back to the PC, very much like the mainframe to dummy terminal days.  Not too long ago, the smartphone and mobile device boom created a parallel era – the Mobile Device era.  Mobile devices did not have the ubiquitous access to a broadband internet connection, thus requiring local native applications to create a better user experience than Internet hosted applications.  However, today we are nearing a relatively pervasive high-speed wireless internet connection.  Is the Mobile Device era simply morphing its way in to the Internet era, or, perhaps, are we entering a completely new era?

Steve Jobs said we are in a Post-PC era, others argue we are still in the Internet era, but I prefer to say we are in a pervasive Cloud Computing era.  For perhaps the first time, the change was not brought to light by one single technology, yet the culmination of all technologies.  Cloud computing requires three main components, an end-user device, a network connection (public or private), and a remote computing environment.  In this instance, a remote computing environment is any piece of hardware that is processing or storing data.  While this is nearly the same architecture of the Mainframe era, the significant difference is that each one of those three components can be independently interchanged.  For instance, your smartphone can automatically detect when you are entering a grocery store, use the cellular network to connect to an internet hosted grocery list application that pings your refrigerator at home via your home broadband connection to update its inventory online, and then alert you to the new additions.  The entire process utilizes the entire gamut of past eras; different devices, local native apps, various private and public networks, and internet hosted application, data storage, and processing.

So Cloud Computing requires a device, a connection, and remote computing, but what exactly is it?  To define it in its most abstract and succinct terms, it is the remote hosting, processing, and/or storage of data.  What has evolved is the technical details behind the scenes.  Three main categories make up these advances: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  Most users are most familiar with SaaS, it is essentially an application that runs online instead of on a local device.  An example of this would be Google Docs, which hosts different document types online and allows you to view, edit, and collaborate by connecting to the hosted application via a browser.  PaaS provides a platform for developers to program on and host the application in a specialized environment that provides advanced features such as pay-as-you-go and transparent scalability.  Lastly, IaaS, which could also be referred to as Hardware as a Service, as it provides the customer with a completely outsourced IT infrastructure, allows for companies to have pay-as-you-go access to top of the line hardware resources.

Computing as a whole has continually evolved era to era.  At a very high level, cloud computing is very similar to mainframe computing.  However, this abstraction purposefully leaves out the technical advances made in recent years.  As these technologies have matured and more companies enter the field, the media attention and marketing has skyrocketed.  By definition, cloud computing has become a buzzword.  Yet, there is no doubting its continual advances and numerous benefits.  With relatively new technologies such as Hadoop, MapReduce, redundant arrays of cloud storage, and advanced virtualization techniques, recent changes have proven it is not just a renamed version of mainframe computing, but a truly evolved and sophisticated computing infrastructure still in its infancy.

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