Cloud Computing is a buzz word that has recently taken the web hosting industry by storm, but is Cloud Computing really anything new? The basic concept of Cloud Computing is to remove the burden of heavy processing and memory consumption from the client or end user systems and take care of the heavy tasks “in the cloud” using a very dynamic cluster server. Dynamic meaning that the cluster server may be comprised of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of machines. A downed machine can simply be removed and replaced without affecting the daily operations and file storage of the cloud. The method by which this is achieved is certainly new. The concept however is a return to the days of old before the PC revolution came into full swing.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s computers were more often quite large centralized machines. This is in a time when super computers did most of the work. These super computers were monstrous and a single computer would easily fill an entire room. More often than not employees who did work on computers would use low end systems or “dumb terminals” that had little number crunching power of their own. These dumb terminals would simply provide an interface to the computing monstrosity in the next room. This was a necessity at the time since the more powerful desktop computers of the day often lacked the resources to handle the tasks necessary in daily work. These super computers or “mainframes” housed the expensive large quantities of memory, hard disks and processing power. This allowed businesses to minimize costs by purchasing dumb terminals at a fraction of the cost of the more capable workstations and still get the job done.
Of course technology improved and the PC revolution swept into our homes, schools, offices, and into our daily lives. Research into computational technology, memory and storage devices improved and miniaturized computers exponentially year after year after year. It become more expensive to maintain the “big iron” than it was to create large numbers of significantly powerful workstations or home and office PC’s. As it became more expensive to maintain fridge sized 16 and 32 processor mainframes (sometimes more) experts tried to build a cheaper solution consisting of networked home computers working together on the same tasks. These home built multi-computer systems became known as cluster servers. At this point in time most work anyone needed done could be handled by their rather industrious home PC’s. However as these fields became more advanced there was again that requirement for an outside super computer to take the reigns of the processing. Thankfully cluster servers were ready to step up to the plate.
Anyone with enough skill could build their own cluster server in their home with enough old computers laying around. Home computers had become powerful enough that when clustered, several moderately powerful computers could pull together more CPU power than a mainframe costing many times more to produce. Cluster servers soon held record breaking computational power and began to break documented records from the latest expensive single machine super computers. Clusters had the advantage of being easily expandable simply by adding another PC to the network that was set up to become a node in the cluster. This would soon revolutionize data centers around the world. Cluster servers became widely used in “render farms” for 3D animation or for studying mathematics, physics, cryptography and began taking on tasks too back breaking for even the most powerful home PC’s.
With the recent recession many people are thinking twice before spending a few thousand dollars on a machine that will be outdated within the year. Many settle for lesser computers for under a thousand dollars. These machines don’t pack the punch needed for high end gaming or productivity but they’ll do fine for school and office work most of the time. On top of that we’re seeing new initiatives for cheaper computers particularly with ambitions to create “the hundred dollar laptop” and to put a laptop in the hands of every child on the planet so that all have the ability to learn and be part of the digital age. To create these cheaper computers we’re coming full circle back to a time when the expense and power of individual machines can’t be justified among the masses. These cheap computers would ultimately be impractical for all but the simplest tasks but thanks to the concept of Cloud Computing they are quickly becoming a reality.
These new machines bare some resemblance to the idea of old dumb terminals. In some ways Cloud Computing is just todays buzz word for a “mainframe” except that Cloud Computing is across multiple machines in any number of locations whereas an old mainframe is a single mega-machine. For example an old mainframe existed in one location and you would never think of relocating it. The mainframes could only scale in terms of power and processing as much as their motherboards had room for. With Cloud Computing the cluster can scale in theory to any number of machines. Those machines don’t even have to be in the same room or the same country. A modern version of a mainframe might consist of hundreds or thousands of individual computers networked together and they may be working together from several different locations across the globe. If one data center goes out the Cloud keeps running minus a few horsepower.
Cloud Computing may not be as new an idea as the industry would have us believe, but it does provide some innovations and open some doors that old mainframes never could. Cloud Computing is only going to grow as many businesses try to find their niche and revenue by providing cloud hosting or cloud based applications. Google remains on the forefront of this with their constantly innovative suite of on line tools including Gmail, Google docs, and many more. One of Googles biggest Cloud Computing ambitions however is to bring Africa and the 3rd world into the information age.
All you will need is a cell phone, or a PDA, or a cheap netbook with an Internet connection. The cloud will take care of the heavy processing while the tools and storage will exist on line removing the requirement for the masses to own expensive hardware of their own.
While some may find reason to hang on to their expensive PC’s, in the future many more casual computer users and light weight users will find that Cloud Computing fulfills their needs while leaving their desk space free. Even those with high end machines may need to run applications in the cloud sometimes. In some cases the demands of an application are too high for their home computers. Or it may be since Cloud Computing is making it faster and simpler to share data with others as one can with Google Docs. Regardless it is apparent that the Cloud Computing revolution is here to stay and could one day be known as the revolution that put the 3rd world on line.