Cloud Computing – Just Draw Me a Picture

We began our series on the business of cloud computing, "Handshake 2.0 Takes on the Cloud," with this imperative:

"Tell me what I need to know about The Cloud in terms I can understand and that I can do something about – or not – for my business, for my customers, and for the greater good." 

Our series addresses those issues and more.  At the end of this post, we've compiled the links to all posts in the series.  To close, we quote John Keats:

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

We offer the following images in hopes that, about cloud computing, they are "all ye need to know."

 

A vision of cloud computing from Handshake 2.0

Cloud Computing
The cloud allocates just enough computing power
for you to do what you want to do.

A vision of cloud hosting from Handshake 2.0

Cloud Hosting
Hosting in the cloud gives you more power for heavy traffic
and lower costs for light traffic, all dynamically adjusted.

A vision of Software-as-a-Service, SaaS, from Handshake 2.0

SaaS
Instead of running on your computer, Software-as-Service (SaaS)
applications run in the cloud, taking instructions from your computer,
then sending the results as output to your computer.
What you wanted to do is done.

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Our Handshake 2.0 series on cloud computing ran June 12-June 22, 2009.  We've compiled links to the entire series here, each opening in a new window:

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud - a series on the business of cloud computing Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud - Introduction
Welcome to The Cloud - The Cloud Computing Story
The Cloud I Want - How The Cloud can serve the greater good
Cloud Computing for Small Businesses: More With Less
The Benefit of The Cloud for Businesses: Pay-for-Use
The Cloud is Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time
The Cloud:  Immediate, Scalable, Billed by the Hour
The Cloud Can Offer Small Companies an Advantage Over Large Companies
The Cloud:  Bring on the Bursts and the Limitless Software Choices
Cloud Computing – Just Draw Me a Picture – Conclusion (this post)

For contributing their expertise to this series, we thank Cameron Nouri of RackspaceDavid Catalano of ModeaJim Schweitzer of Vision Point Systems, Rob La Gesse of Rackspace, Barry Welch of Internet Databases, and Calvin Ribbens and Osman Balci, Computer Science at Virginia Tech.

Thanks to Alex Edelman for providing context for the series in Welcome to The Cloud, The Cloud I Want, and sketches and captions for the images, Kelsey Jade Sarles, graphic artist, for the series logo and the final images above, and Catherine Fong for her research.

The Cloud: Bring on the Bursts and the Limitless Software Choices

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud Thank you so much to Cameron Nouri of RackspaceDavid Catalano of ModeaJim Schweitzer of Vision Point Systems, Rob La Gesse of Rackspace, and Barry Welch of Internet Databases for sharing their knowledge of cloud computing with us for our series Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud.

We have an academic perspective to offer as well.  We asked, "From your point of view, what are – or will be – the benefits of cloud computing for small-to-medium businesses?"

Calvin Ribbens, Computer Science, Virginia Tech:

Cloud computing can potentially save small companies a lot of money, especially if their computing requirements are 'bursty,' i.e., occasionally they need a lot of computing power, but only occasionally.  It does not pay for companies like this to buy and maintain sufficient computing resources to handle their occasional requirement bursts.  So the cloud can be a nice alternative.

Osman Balci, Computer Science, Virginia Tech:

Cloud computing will enable small-to-medium businesses to use software as a service as opposed to purchasing software as a product. Cloud computing provides many benefits to businesses including lower cost of software use, limitless choice of software in the cloud, instant access to software over the network, no installation hassle, no compatibility issues, no support overhead, and reduced downtime.

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We're compiling links to Handshake 2.0's entire cloud computing series on our introductory post.

Catherine Fong contributed to this post.

The Cloud Can Offer Small Companies an Advantage Over Larger Companies

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud For our series Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud, we asked experts on cloud computing:  "From your point of view, what are – or will be – the benefits of cloud computing for small-to-medium businesses?" 

Barry Welch, Internet Databases:

I see cloud computing as something bigger than signing up for a web-based subscription service.  I see it as moving operational applications (accounting, inventory tracking, claims processing, etc.) to virtual computing space.  One advantage is that computing power and storage capacity can grow and morph easily, quickly and cheaper than traditional procurement of new hardware and network capacity.  New virtual servers can be cloned and brought online in minutes.  They can shrink and grow following actual demand. And you only pay for the amount of resources used.

The small and medium sized company can gain significant advantage over larger companies with legacy systems by leading the way into the very flexible computing environment.  They can provide their users and clients highly available, redundant, and robust computing for a fraction of the cost of traditional servers.

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We're compiling links to Handshake 2.0's entire cloud computing series on our introductory post.

Catherine Fong contributed to this post.

The Cloud is Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time

Chatting in The Cloud with Chris Burgoyne From Jim Schweitzer:

Imagine this scenario: You call up your buddy on your favorite video chat software. When he picks up, you notice he's standing in front of a big painting that's filling up the background of the entire screen. Upon asking where he is, he tells you he's at a coffee shop at the mall where he is buying new artwork for the office. After a few minutes of chatting, he says he has to go and asks you to call him back in 15 minutes. Anxious to finish the discussion, you call him back and pick up the conversation where you left off. As soon as you're done, you hang up and walk down the hall to grab some coffee. Suddenly you notice your buddy sitting in his office hanging his new painting. What the heck just happened here?

This is The Cloud in action. Let's dissect the scenario.

When you clicked your buddy's name in the buddy list, your goal was to see and speak to him. This was a name-based transaction. The data, in this case, was the video and audio that made up both calls, and as far as you knew, the first call was just as valid as the second call. The Cloud is at work here – location becomes irrelevant because the reference queues (your buddy and the background view) are identical in all scenarios. In the typical Software-as-a-Service, SaaS scenario, the items held constant are the databases being accessed and the presentation of the web user interfaces, etc.

Location irrelevance is one of the foundations of the World Wide Web. Domain Name System, or DNS, exists to provide human users with name-based routing to avoid the need to access computing resources by specific addresses. In this regard, The Cloud is nothing new. The added concept is only that some businesses are deciding to take advantage of the Internet available outside their office walls for the housing of critical services that typically have been maintained in a specific location.

When is it appropriate to externalize critical IT services? Under what scenarios is it preferable to keep full control of a system in-house? These questions don't have universal answers. Businesses should conduct a risk analysis on aspects such as security, data sensitivity, performance, infrastructure, cost, intellectual property and training to determine their ideal mix The Cloud versus in-house solutions.

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Jim Schweitzer is the Operations Manager at Vision Point Systems, an engineering and technology consulting firm with offices in Fairfax, Virginia and the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The Benefit of The Cloud for Businesses: Pay-for-Use

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud For our series Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud, we asked experts on cloud computing:  "From your point of view, what are – or will be – the benefits of cloud computing for small-to-medium businesses?"

David Catalano of digital services agency Modea answered:

"The traditional method of IT infrastructure planning requires businesses to make investments in anticipation of future needs. Cloud computing may allow businesses to dynamically scale key parts of their IT infrastructure as needs dictate. Cloud computing may result in the near elimination of up-front infrastructure costs and on-going fixed costs such as bandwidth allocation. The benefit is 'pay-for-use.' Businesses pay incrementally more for cloud resources only when they require it."

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You can learn more about Modea on Handshake 2.0.  On Twitter, you can follow @David Catalano and @Modea.

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We're compiling links to Handshake 2.0's entire cloud computing series on our introductory post.

Catherine Fong contributed to this post.

The Cloud I Want

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud

 From Alex Edelman:

A lot of people have started talking about "the cloud" recently. I joined the conversation in Welcome to The Cloud.

I can see why a lot of people are excited. More and more of the applications we use every day to create and communicate are available online, accessible from anywhere. And small businesses (larger ones, too) can now quit worrying about IT altogether by putting their data in the cloud.
 
But I'm not a small business owner and, as for web apps, I'll admit to eagerly trying every new Google experiment, but realistically, I've been using webmail since sixth grade. Why get excited now?

Cloudscreenshot

The computer owner's machine still does most of the computing.
Here's an
annotated version of this screenshot.

When I think about cloud computing, I emphasize the computing. The cloud hasn't arrived for me yet because my own computer still does the vast majority of my computing. And I suspect that when I buy my next computer, I'll be thinking about its processor, disk, and graphics card as much as when I bought my last one.

I'm writing this in a text editor running on my machine, listening to music from iTunes running on my machine, looking at a PDF open on my machine, logged in to chat services through client programs that run on my machine. Today at work, I used the copy of MATLAB on my machine to crunch through microscope images from a USB drive – no cloud there – and turned them into a PowerPoint presentation on my machine.

The clouds I use are convenient but not essential. I love Gmail, but Carnegie Mellon - where I'm a student – does email, too. I could easily download my RSS feeds and read them locally. I could host webpages and share files by setting up an old computer in a closet somewhere. And so on.
 
But I don't like the world this way. I think the present arrangement gives us a problem of inefficient computation.

The computer I'm using now is eight times as fast as the one I was using eight years ago. That power is useful: I hear my fans whirring as my computer fills up the extra RAM I installed a few weeks ago and smashes through some monstrous calculations (such as to create a parametric hand turkey).  The only problem is that this happens a few times a week, maybe. Right now, my system monitoring widget tells me that my processor is 89% idle, and it stays that way for most of my daily tasks. At night, I close my laptop, and its power is completely unused for (ideally) eight hours.
 
Meanwhile, biologists need to simulate complex proteins folding, cryptographers need to run data through mind-boggling ciphers, and physicists need to crunch through the equations of lattice quantum chromodynamics. Oh, and somebody's trying to check email and cursing the busy server.
 
And here's another problem. If I ranked parts of my world in order of importance, my computer would probably be somewhere on par with oxygen. In the past year (at least), I have used it every single day. So naturally, I want to take it with me. So naturally, I want it to be thin and light and portable. I'm a college student, so naturally I want it to be cheap. So far so good. Except I also want a computer that's really good at, well, computing. I suspect that many others share my preferences.  That inevitably leads to difficulty in finding the right balance between a wimpy netbook and a gargantuan desktop replacement laptop.
 
I've whined enough, so let me tell you my scenario of a good, near future.

The computing device I carry around consists of a persistent wireless Internet connection and a screen. I chose this device based entirely on screen size. My entrepreneurial friends, used to their Crackberries of years past, opt for little three-inch devices, while those who majored in design prefer 30-inch tablets. (They're not as big as they sound, since their organic LED screens allow them to roll up like posters.) It really doesn't matter, though, since we can do anything we want to – anything that's possible on a cluster of untold thousands of processors operating on the scale of exaFLOPS. Whenever I flip out my device to check email, the cloud – for this really is a cloud – allocates a few processor cycles to my trivial task, sends me the information, then goes back to curing cancer.
 
That's the cloud I want.

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Alexander Edelman studies physics at Carnegie Mellon University and is the Chief Technology Officer of Handshake Media, Incorporated.

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We're compiling links to Handshake 2.0's cloud computing series here.

Welcome to The Cloud – In the Beginning Was The Cloud, But We Called It a Server

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud This is the first entry in our series, Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud:  What do we need to know about The Cloud in order to serve our companies, our customers, and the greater good?

 From Alex Edelman:

These days, people all seem to have their heads in "the cloud" and, as is usually the case with such tech buzzwords, by now the term is so popularized that it's difficult to extract its meaning.

SaaS, cloud computing, The Cloud - this story has it all. "Cloud computing" is a particularly pernicious case because, even before being fogged over by the sudden flood of public attention, it embodies so many different components. I can't provide a single definition. (If I did, it would either be useless or inaccurate.) Instead, I'm going to tell you a story.

The Story Begins
 
Let's say you have a computer. Now this is pretty exciting. You can perform so many calculations per second! And you're a forward-looking type who realizes that these are useful for more than number-crunching: you can do word processing and record-keeping, and one day, when these things get fast enough, maybe even look at pictures! Your friends are jealous, so they get computers, too. Now you can all do really cool things, and soon you realize that you want to share them with each other. So you figure out how to hook all your computers together, and now you have a network.
 
This network is pretty nifty. You can send messages to each other. You can share files. Life is good. But you begin to notice a few problems. You realize that if you want to access a friend's files, your friend's computer has to be on. Ditto if you want to send a message. Likewise, your computer can't interact with your friends' computers unless it's on. You keep some pretty strange hours, so this arrangement is unacceptable.
 
So you and your friends get together and buy another computer – slightly bigger and faster than the others. You designate it the central node of your network. You decide that this computer is going to stay on all day, be responsible for hosting shared files, and distribute messages to its clients. Now, whenever you want to interact with any of the members of your network, you pipe your request through this central computer.
 
At this stage, you wonder what you should call it. The term "cloud" seems appropriate – the structure you've created seems to hover over your entire network – but you get the vague feeling that years from now, technologically inclined people would scoff at the comparison between your humble arrangement and the towering, billowing water droplets that bridge the sky. So you shelve the thought and call it a "server."

More People Like the Story
 
It turns out that you're not the only one who's had these ideas. Lots of people have formed networks by now, and one day you decide that it would be really nifty to link these networks together. So you spend a while writing protocols for communication, standardize things like "hypertext" and "email," and soon you have the Internet.
 
This Internet really catches on. You're busy with your wife, two-and-a-half children, golden retriever, and new small business, but you notice that some computer types have done some really cool things online. For instance, those guys over in Mountain View, CA have a really nifty way of reading email.

Now that all the small networks are connected, you realize there's really no reason to get your communication fix from your own server, especially when these other guys do the job so much better. So you switch over to them. This is really seeming very cloud-like, but you remember that it's just a bunch of guys with better servers in another place and keep your mouth shut.
 
Actually, as time goes by, a whole bunch of people get really good at this networked computer thing. You realize that staying on the cutting edge is expensive and difficult, and the services these people offer are so slick! Gradually, you shift more and more of your crucial tasks over to them: your calendar, your address book, your shared documents (and your private documents), your large file storage, your website, all go into the cloud – sorry, into the servers –  of companies that have dedicated themselves to the task.

Sure, you realize, you could put up servers and do it yourself, but what makes these companies better is the software they provide, which streamlines all your essential tasks, makes them enjoyable, even. Really, for the software they provide as a service, you use their servers, not yours(Hence, Software-as-a-Service, SaaS.)

Not the End of the Story
 
And that's the whole story. Up until very recently, at least. You see, there's one more twist. Until now, no matter how much of your data has been in the cloud, you've still been doing stuff with your data on your own machine. But the final piece of the puzzle – the really exciting bit – is computing in the cloud.
 
Human computer usage is naturally "bursty." (This is a real computer science term. I kid you not.) You spend a few minutes clicking around a website intensely, and then you go somewhere else. Your awesome fireworks simulator gets a lot of traffic in early July and late December, but very little for the rest of the year. Your United States-based customers are asleep and away from your website for about the same chunk of time every day (unless they're college students).
 
And yet, if you want to get the best computing experience, you need to buy a machine that will perform well at the most computationally intense tasks – and then sit idle. And yet, if you want to provide the best experience for your clients, you need to buy equipment that will maintain high performance during the greatest bursts – and then sit idle.
 
Cloud computing lets you shift the burden to a third party. Processing power itself is now provided as a service. You use and pay for only what you need. Isn't that so simple and elegant?

We Won't Notice the End of the Story
 
Let's return to defining The Cloud, then. Now that we've run the gamut from a simple server to fully outsourced electronic labor, when, exactly, can we call it a cloud?

We won't care what it's called or when.  We'll be back – ahead, really – to doing really cool things and sharing them with our friends.

***

Alexander Edelman studies physics at Carnegie Mellon University and is the Chief Technology Officer of Handshake Media, Incorporated.

Graphics by Kelsey Jade Sarles.

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We're compiling links to Handshake 2.0's cloud computing series here.

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud From Anne Clelland:

Enough already.  Time to descend through the clouds and get grounded about The Cloud.

I've read the Wikipedia entries on Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud computing, and The Cloud.

I've read Davey Shafik's Explaining the Cloud, Mary Hayes Weier's Research Identifies Misconceptions about Cloud Computing (I could relate to checking the "don't know" box), and this tasty tidbit, 10 Cloud Computing Companies to Watch, which mentions a company with a division in my own town.

And then there's this Building43 thing hosted on cloud sites and Robert Scoble mentioning London and "here" – Blacksburg, Virginia - in the same sentence.

Enough already.

Tell me what I need to know about The Cloud in terms I can understand and that I can do something about – or not – for my business, for my customers, and for the greater good.

That about covers it.

And Handshake 2.0 is going to cover it.  We're doing a series on The Cloud, starting Monday, June 15, 2009.  We've asked the experts and they've offered us rich insights about what we need to know.

But we'll begin with a story.

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Our series on cloud computing began June 12, 2009.  We've compiled links to the series here:

Handshake 2.0 Takes on The Cloud - Introduction
Welcome to The Cloud - The Cloud Computing Story
The Cloud I Want
Cloud Computing for Small Businesses: More With Less
The Benefit of The Cloud for Businesses: Pay-for-Use