Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

What is cloud computing?

In any sentence including the word “cloud” if you substitute “network” the sentence still makes sense, and normally makes a lot more sense.*

I’ve recently been doing some stuff with cloud computing and thought I would offer the above insight. It’s slightly flippant however, in that there is a difference  (at least to me) between cloud services and network services and that is in their focus. “Cloud services” tend to be focuses towards consumers whereas “network services” are rendered by businesses to business, although as is normal in business they’re further obfuscated translated to b2b services or, if intended to portray an image of easy-consumption “b2b cloud services”.

You’re currently reading this blog on the cloud or syndicated by a cloud service (like google reader, netvibes (oh yes I see you), bloglines etc.) on a device of your choice.  I’m writing it on a cloud service and other cloud services (like google, bing, whatever) are providing search for curious folks to find this blog.

So what does all this mean? Is cloud pointless or the most important thing since 7 layered network protocols? Or all of the above?

Personally I’m leaning towards the third option. In many ways this is nothing new. I’ve been able to use network based search, hosting, virtual provisioning, remote servers, remote APIs for many years. In another way it’s totally new, I can provision a network based on a topology of my choice based on a collection of OSes for little or no money for whatever purpose suits me, storing data in a federated fashion and integrated with a number of web services after just a few clicks, both as a business or an individual.

There are many excellent cloud services out there, I personally use the Ubuntu One service to transfer files between my main desktop PC and my Android tablet, it’s actually more convenient than using a USB stick (and free) – this for me is the real distinction between “network” services and “cloudn” services (deliberately misspelt for those who do the copy/paste search/replace exercise). They’re so convenient and cheap (or free) you’d use them above anything else. Amazon is really trailblazing in terms of consumer and business cloud services.

I recently setup a website. I entered my credit card details and literally moments later had a linux server with the web server of my choice running. I was able to FTP and SSH to the box and do whatever I wanted as it appeared to be my box. Of course it’s not my box, it’s a virtual box hosted by a (probably virtual) hypervisor or similar on a bunch of racks distributed around a bunch of data centres in various places but that’s not relevant to me as a consumer, I just ask for a “box” and get a “box” in moments, in a convenient and cheap way.

That is what cloud computing is all about.

* Try this trick with this blog, copy and paste the blog to gedit/notepad/whatever and replace “cloud” for “network”


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