What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is essentially the promise of the Internet. It will allow users to accomplish tasks from wherever they are.

According to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, “[c]loud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a pool of configurable computing resources . . . that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

More to the point, cloud computing is a method of using remote servers on the Internet to do data processing and storage. Anything from basic word processing to collaboration to e-mail to multimedia processing can be accomplished, sometimes more efficiently, using cloud computing than it could using one’s personal computer. Included in cloud computing is Internet-based social networking services, as these offer companies an easy method of promoting their product or people an easy way of promoting and publicizing themselves without building an infrastructure of their own.

The source of the term "cloud computing" is mostly unknown, although it came to be part of the general vocabulary in computers after Google CEO Eric Schmidt used the phrase in a speech at a search engine conference describing his company's strategy.


Why use cloud computing?

Imagine creating a document once using your computer and then being able to access it from any Internet-connected computer in the world with no effort on your part. That’s the promise of cloud computing. It also means that one could set up a platform quickly and easily. Consider that when the Internet was new, it was fairly difficult to create a Website, especially if you did not know how to write Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the language of the Internet. Today, however, one can create a Website with relative ease using services like Wordpress.com or Blogger.com that’s easy to update and create rich content on without knowing a stitch of HTML. These possibilities, which grow with every idea that an innovator creates, are allowing cloud computing to greatly expand the way we work.

Cloud computing also takes the time-consuming and complicated administrative tasks out of the hands of the users. The software is always up to date, and security flaws are, in theory, quickly patched. As you will discover on this site, that isn't necessarily always the case.

How does it work?

Diagram

Image Source: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/cloud-computing-1.gif

The Basics

Cloud computing works much like standard computing from the user’s viewpoint. The user submits a request, like opening or saving a document or contacting another user. The request is sent to the "cloud," which then processes the request and returns the result to the user. The purpose is to make the cloud transparent to the user.

Client-Server Model

Usually, the user is using a particular program like Citrix XenApp or, more commonly, simply a Web browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Google Chrome. The user will visit a particular Website and log in to the system. The requests are sent to what is called the back-end or cloud. There, it is received a server which, in the diagram to the left, is called the control node. It is responsible for distributing the load between different servers so that no one server is overloaded and the service stays fast. (You didn't think that Google ran on one big computer in Mountain View, California, did you?) It may also request data, like data for authentication of the user. After having a request passed to a particular server, the server processes the request and returns the result, if there is one, to the user. The user's front-end may directly communicate with the particular server or each new request may be routed to a new server. Often, the connection to the application server is kept open so that if there are any new developments (for example, if you receive an e-mail message in GMail), you can be notified and your display updated.

Why now?

While cloud computing is inherent in the way that the Internet works, as whenever one accesses a Website, that person is having a remote server retrieve and deliver a document, it has become more prevalent recently. This may be a result of American society becoming more connected to the Internet. According to one study, as of April 2009, 63% of American adults had broadband internet at home. Over 33 million Americans use Internet-connected smartphones like iPhones and BlackBerrys.

The more access we have to the Internet, the easier it is to use cloud computing services. Additionally, the more we use these devices, the more we want to be able to access and edit our data anywhere. Having one copy of a brief or business plan on your office computer won't help you if you're out of your office. However, if you've stored it in the cloud, you can easily access it.

For more, see our page on Benefits & Disadvantages.

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