So the topic for today is Cloud computing... like most of the subject matter I cover with this blog I am by no means an expert, but I think that it's an area that is going to become far more prevalent very quickly, so I wanted to give a view on it in the vague hope that someone out there is listening!. If nothing else this works as a cathartic exercise to get these technologies that I "understand" into a written form which helps to solidify the idea in my head...
So what is Cloud computing? There's a fairly good description of it on Wikipedia here but this may be overly complicated for some! The basic premise that you have to remember is that the cloud in this instance is usually considered to be the Internet, (although some applications that are actually hosted within your intranet could also be considered to be Cloud applications, but I digress).
So in essence cloud computing is the migration of computer applications from being installed applications on your PC into applications that are hosted elsewhere on the Internet, but can be easily utilised by any user simply by firing up their favourite web browser.
On your side of the cloud you would normally use a web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or perhaps even the new entrants from Google - Chrome; and this would link into an application of some kind that is hosted elsewhere on the web. The most obvious applications out there at the moment are the CRM applications such as salesforce.com, (SFDC), or applications such as Google docs or perhaps even Gmail. These applications would sit on the other side of the cloud and be based in huge data centres and be run by giants such as Google or Microsoft.
A relatively new entrant into the cloud computing market is the Microsoft mesh application, which isn't really an application at all in the conventional sense, but more a medium to synchronise PCs automatically across the web along with a bit of online web space thrown in. This web space is not used in the conventional sense, i.e. to host webpages, but is actually used to store up to, (currently), 5 GB of data . However, if you synchronise a number of directories that exceed the 5 GB, then the synchronisation of files that fall beyond this limit happen on a peer-to-peer basis controlled by the mesh application, when 2 or more peers are online at the same time.
In time, there is a strong possibility that cloud computing will become the norm, and that your entire data content that you have stored on your hard disk at the moment will be stored in the cloud somewhere, and accessible from every PC that you have access to.
Of course all of this has huge privacy implications, and currently although a lot of discussion is going on there is nothing really protecting your data in the cloud... in fact if you read the EULA, (end user license agreement), of any mesh application, you will probably find that you have signed your rights away to your own data potentially...
However, the reality of this is that if it was found that one of these big "cloud" companies was using your data for means other than to service your own needs, you can be sure that there will be a massive public outcry and a probable rethink very quickly! Maybe a somewhat naive viewpoint, but the reality is that if their customers don't trust them then they don't have an application that people will use.
Another area that is not clear at the moment is how cloud computing will be financed. In the context of companies like salesforce.com it is very clear how their applications are paid for, because organisations have to sign up to a paid for plan for all relevant employees. However, applications like Windows live mesh are currently free and it is not clear how they will be paid for in the future. As things stand though, I am quite happy to use this technology to sync my vital data between my home PCs and my work PCs. So far, it has been an incredible useful tool with no downsides; Long may this be the case!