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Thinking Out Loud

Why knowing about “The Cloud” is important. 1

“Moving to the Cloud” is a phrase that sums up the current shift into the next level of computing power.

That shift is much faster than previous shifts, and it is completely changing the way information is processed and stored.

If you understand what “The Cloud” means, then you will understand why governments, businesses, and IT people are constantly talking about it. In fact, you will be able to join the conversations. Once you know what opportunities and threats are coming, you’ll be better placed to make good decisions.

And you’ll never have to pretend to understand what a cloud is.

What is a computer, anyway?

A computer is something that you put raw data into, and it has ways to store and reshuffle that information and give you back some useful information.

Which means that the Cloud is just a really big computer. Kind of.

What is a computer, anyway?

Layman’s definition

The Cloud is made up of millions of computers which shuffle raw processing power and data around between each other automatically.

The machines re-allocate resources to meet shifting demands, and monitor the effectiveness of all their shared resources.

“The Cloud delivers access to vast computing resources, on-demand, via the internet, on a pay-for-use basis”.

Instead of your phone or desktop needing to be powerful and have lots of storage, the cloud supplies virtually unlimited data storage, computing power, applications, and operating platforms, to process information.

What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive.

In a big business, you should know what’s on the other side of the connection.
As a regular human being, you’ll never have any idea what kind of massive data-processing is happening on the other end.

Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, iCloud, Azure, Amazon. All cloud. You use them every day.

Storing stuff on a home or office network is NOT utilising the cloud, even if your fancy hard drive stack is labelled as some sort of “my-cloud”.

Why is called “The Cloud”?

Back when local networks connected a few dozen computers on a University campus for example, or within an office, you could physically trace the ethernet wires, and draw a map of those wires and the computers and printer etc on your network.

As soon as the networks were networked (the Inter-Network, or Internet) the sketch maps contained 1000’s of nodes and wires. Whoa, too much detail. Let’s just draw a big nebulous blob instead. Like the shape of a fluffy cloud. This started in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the complexity was becoming just too much to sketch on a single sheet of paper.

It implied that stuff was going on in that misty space, but really, we didn’t want to know much about it, since the specifics didn’t affect the usefulness, or outcome.

References to “cloud computing” appeared around 1996, with mainstream use in 2006 when Amazon.com introduced the Elastic Compute Cloud.

Technical Definition

Cloud computing has a relatively narrow definition according to various governments, standards bodies, and industry groups.

The Cloud is on-demand. You have access to as much computing power and data storage as you need.

The Cloud is self-service. You don’t need to interact with a person to get what you need – the cloud itself responds to your requests.

The Cloud is easily accessed. You can use a phone, tablet, TV, laptop, or desktop to access your programs and data.

The Cloud pools resources. Depending on demand, multiple users can access the same physical and virtual resources.

The Cloud can expand or contract rapidly. Computing capabilities are automatically provisioned and released as needed – this “elasticity” gives the impression that you have access to unlimited power and storage.

The Cloud measures its services. Resource usage is monitored and reported. Firstly to optimise and control internally, secondly to charge for consumption.

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