What is Cloud Technology
The simple, cynical answer to that question would be “a buzzword”. You’re probably looking for something a bit more substantive, though!
An explanation of cloud computing
Essentially, it’s a network of many – there’s no upper limit here, and things like Amazon Web Services might use hundreds of thousands of individual nodes, scattered throughout the world – individual servers, acting in tandem to perform processing tasks.
Most of the complex jobs that necessitate the most horsepower are in fact quite parallel; it’s often more efficient to split them into multiple tasks running on separate machines then it is to try to handle them on a single server.
A cloud is decentralized…
…allowing individual elements to fail without substantial damage to the functionality of the whole; you use a number of small, cheap machines to do the job of one large, expensive one.
All that – for example – cloud hosting is web hosting that leverages the cloud to do the work of serving your files, as opposed to using one of a handful of powerful servers.
Web hosting is a perfect example
of a task that benefits from cloud technology, seeing as how the load is derived from a very large number of simple tasks being performed simultaneously. Cloud technology isn’t a good thing or a bad thing; it’s a way of approaching problems, and it can be a better or a worse fit depending on the details of the specific situation.
When Should I Use The Cloud?
Cloud computing is a no-brainer for all sorts of file serving applications; it’s a very cost-effective way to handle the computing requirements of web servers or file sharing servers, and the inherent redundancy is a major boon.
If one machine fails, it won’t even be a noticeable impact on your content; all the files in question are present on other machines in the cluster that will start to pick up the slack immediately.
Compared to traditional hosting methods – and the fact that one hardware failure could render all of the files on your webspace at least temporarily unavailable – there’s really no disadvantage.
Similarly, for setting up remote backups, the most important factor is reliability; you need to be able to read and write to your backup destination at a moment’s notice. Cloud technologies just make sense for applications along these lines.
Other problems will require a bit more thought on your part
For instance: what is cloud technology’s worth for heavier number-crunching? Processing large, complex data sets can certainly be parallel, but – depending on how the data in question is being used – you might run into serious latency issues.
Information doesn’t travel instantaneously down copper wire; depending on the distance and the amount of networking equipment that a signal needs to travel through, you can have a nontrivial delay while you’re very literally waiting on the Internet connection.
For some tasks, this is irrelevant; it really doesn’t matter if there’s a split-second window between sending a file to your webspace and its being made available there.
For others, it’s more significant; anything that requires real-time communication is going to run into issues with cloud computing. For an example of this, you might want to look at the various streaming video game services – for instance, OnLive.
Even with large sums of money invested specifically into dodging these issues, the services in question – by and large – don’t work.
The latency issues are too problematic.
A half second is a surprisingly long time, when it’s the delay between putting an input in on your controller and a fast-paced action game responding to that.
Being “In” The Cloud
The really interesting part of all of this, though, is the fact that cloud computing combines easy, ubiquitous web hosting with a non-trivial amount of power available in each node.
What this means is that it’s entirely possible to store data in the cloud and never need to actually load it on your own machine in order to work with it.
Instead, you can use web apps – for example, Google Docs – to manipulate files in the cloud. Full-fledged office suites and image editors already exist; you can do a lot of everyday work without actually storing one bit of it locally.
Traditionally, the largest limitation on what you can do when working with computers has been maintaining access to your data.
If your files are on your laptop, then you need to be using your laptop; you can manually synchronize several machines on a regular basis, but you’re still going to need to work with a designated workstation in order to do anything useful.
Storing your files in the cloud lets you access them any time, any place, anywhere.
You can log into any PC on the planet, sign into Google Drive, and have access to all of the files you would at home; you can do whatever you like from within the browser-based Google Docs tools, or you can download them to the new machine and allow Google’s application to automatically take care of syncing any changes up with the original files.
You don’t even need to be using a PC. You can access everything from your phone, if you like. Storing information in the cloud is storing it everywhere and nowhere; you have the same access to it, no matter where you are or what you’re up to.
What is cloud technology? It’s a lot of things; it’s a practical, efficient way to handle the problems of web hosting. It’s a limited but useful way to allow complex calculations even without a lot of horsepower on your side.
Most importantly, though, it’s freedom; it’s the severing of the ties that bond your files to your hardware. You will never find yourself without access to your data; as long as you can connect to the Internet, it’s all there, just as it is at home.
Despite what the starry-eyed futurists say, cloud technology isn’t a panacea; there are tasks to which it isn’t suited. That doesn’t change the fact that there are so many things that it does make easier, faster – better.