Cloudy Computing

Hasn’t anybody ever mentioned that all the rage about cloud computing is like a return to the mainframe computing era? The principles are more or less the same (from a certain perspective) and it still remains an effective way of running and provisioning computing resources. Everybody is touting cloud computing this and cloud computing that but very few people actually see that we have been here before. At the just concluded JavaOne conference, Oracle made some product announcements around “cloud in a box”. How this is different from a mainframe is the question that begs an answer.

Cloud computing is as much a hardware paradigm shift (compared to the mainframe era) as well as shift in the way that software is accessed, run and maintained by users. However, cloud computing is also concerned with data and its accessibility to the public. With increased use of the internet, data silos have become great pointers to lost opportunities and even great potential for revenue stream expansion. Yes, the marketing department in the IT industry have an unbelievable ability to rebrand the same old stuff in some colourful words that essentially boil down to the same notion but please forgive them for they have to sell the next versions just as well.

The combined improvements in hardware, software algorithms as well as data explosion gave rise to cloud computing but like all nascent computing paradigm shift there remain great challenges. Data security that very well encompass privacy remains a key concern amongst customers but the lure of a large amount of data that can be analysed and sorted into bottom-line impacting outputs is too great to ignore. So, here we are back to the yesteryears of power existing away from the end user but making sure that shared resources and reasonably and reliably shared amongst all users at any given moment.

I can’t help but wonder if this is not the shape of computing as it was meant to be. The age of the personal computer resulted in a more powerful end user who is so empowered to the point that it would be acceptable to postulate the current data explosion is the direct outcome. There is no need to feel concern for the power of the end user as I would suspect most of them already realize that the power they wield has become too much to contain. We are more comfortable with search engines and would much rather consult with them before starting off looking for information. In any case, the very notion of knowing where to find your data is increasing a losing proposition; casual computer users are ever getting closer to terabytes range for their computer hard disk configuration and this is tantamount to having your very own provide mess of data for your pleasure.

Besides, I think the power of the end user is shifting more towards mobile devices than personal computers. It is not that personal computers will become obsolete but they would generally be those devices you leave at home or at the very least suffer the indignity of hauling a load about. However, the possibility exists that the next generation of end users may not be too interested in personal computers as their mobile devices adequately meet their personal computing needs. The lost of computing power therefore (as a result of the shift in personal computing form factor) needs to be be augmented with a cloud infrastructure.

By all means let us get cloudy but let us also remember that cloud computing is as much a shift (to yesteryears?) in data processing paradigm as a shift in data accessibility paradigms. Users want their data whenever they want it but also want it secure and almost always reachable. We are dealing with some pretty powerful users who would just as easily prefer to haul around their supposedly balky laptops than trust a cloud computing service provider that can not address their need for data access whenever they want it. If the story of cloud computing is data centric, perhaps we may want to keep an eye on the ever more powerful mobile phone, with ever increasing storage capacities.

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