Today, Tech Tuesday, our Iconic blog is devoted to a technical topic.  This fortnight’s topic is “The Cloud” (cue thunderstorm sound effects).

Cloud ComputingIf you have been tuned in to technology lately, you’ve no doubt heard the term “The Cloud”.  Basically, it is a pool of resources that are given to users as they request them.  Seems easy, but if you have ever tried to implement a home network you know that things may sound easy or seem like they should be easy and yet they often turn out to be complicated.  According to Wikipedia the name “cloud computing” comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol used in the system diagrams to represent the complex infrastructure that implements the technology.

These days, “the cloud” usually refers to that pool of resources residing somewhere on the internet.  It has only been in the last few years that we have had enough bandwidth to start using the internet to implement the cloud.

Apple has done much to popularize the concept with their iCloud implementation.  Following and replacing their MobileMe implementation, Apple’s iCloud is a cloud-based system providing storage for their customers’ music, photographs, apps, documents, backups, notes, etc.  It also provides a platform for Apple’s email servers and calendars.

So.  What’s in the pool?  There are a couple of different kinds of clouds: storage and compute.  The storage kind of cloud is often included within the concept of a compute cloud.

Cloud storage is a model of networked online storage, generally hosted by third parties, with the data stored in “virtual pools” of storage.  Companies that provide hosting services run large data centers that sell or lease this storage capacity to their customers.  Behind the scenes, the operators “virtualize” the storage resources that the customers can use to store their files.  Mozy and Carbonite use this kind of system to store encrypted copies of their customers’ important files.

So, cloud storage uses many different distributed resources that act as one pool of storage.  It is also “fault tolerant” because it stores many different copies in many different physical locations (servers) so that if one becomes corrupted or unusable there are always backups.  They are durable because they keep a series of copies of the same data – recording the different versions of the data so that people can recover their data if it ever becomes corrupted or … inadvertently deleted.  Finally, because there are many different copies of similar stuff, it takes awhile for any changes to propagate through all the copies.  The principle followed is that the different copies are “eventually consistent” which means that the changes do eventually propagate throughout all the copies.

Cloud computing entrusts remote computer resources with the user’s software and its execution to process the user’s data. So the remote computer runs the user’s software on the user’s data off-loading the computation from the user’s computer.  There are many different flavors of “cloud computing”, all of which include – at least temporarily – cloud storage.  You have probably heard of “Software as a service (SaaS)”.  You may also be familiar with desktop virtualization – another form of cloud computing.  The Iconic Mobile Retail System is based on the concept of “Database as a service (DBaaS)” which is both storage and computation.

Cloud computing – especially software as a service – as a business model means that the users rent the application software and databases.  The managers of the cloud provide the hardware, operating systems, and labor to support the applications.

The upshot is that with cloud computing and storage, you are relieved of the burden of managing a small datacenter or server.  You don’t have to maintain your own server – or set of servers.  You enjoy economies of scale where you share with other customers the expensive server hardware and especially the labor of keeping all of the different bits of the system up-to-date.

Also, with cloud computing, you don’t have to worry about backing up your server.  I know, I know … most people don’t worry about backups … they never do them and they don’t worry about it.  This is the blissful (as in ignorance is bliss) backup management strategy.  That works fine until it doesn’t … and then there is no end to the trouble.  In the cloud, backups are taken, securely stored, and ready for restore if ever necessary.

Thanks to blazing fast internet speeds and the availability of top notch data centers, cloud computing on the internet is fast, reliable, secure, and here to stay.

Contact our Iconic team to learn more about the cloud.