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Eric Bruno

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Cloud Computing - Bright or Stormy Future?

March 25, 2009

By now you know all about cloud computing. Running applications in a browser, storing your data on a server in a safe datacenter environment, collaborating more easily, with no application installs or updates required - these are some of the identifiable features of "the cloud." 

 

The appeal is that it gives people access to high-powered applications without the need for high-powered computer hardware, although you need good bandwidth to the Internet. For instance, you could purchase a low-cost, small, computer that uses low power (such as the fit-PC), or a low-cost Netbook, and run Ajax-based cloud applications without any trouble.

 

Cloud computing delivers a lot to those who cannot otherwise own a more expensive computer with off-the-shelf software. However, I can't help but feel a little uncomfortable with two aspects of it:

 

1 - Lack of control over the application: What if I can't get to the Internet? What if the application host upgrades the application on the cloud and I don't like the changes? What if I don't wish to entrust the security of my data to a the application provider? There are certainly many cases where a dedicated, installed, application can be more convenient, or give you more peace of mind.

 

2 - Subscription-based applications: Instead of paying a one-time price for a piece of software, some cloud-based applications are (and/or will be) subscription based. Sure, the monthly fee may be relatively small, but that adds up over time. And you can find yourself without access to any of these applications if you lost your income for a period of time. 

 

Also, if the application provider were to go out of business, or become acquired by a competitor, you may find your favorite cloud application is no longer available. With off-the-shelf software, you may find yourself without support in these cases, but at least you'd be able to continue to use the software.

 

Maybe I'm being old-school here, but I still like off-the-shelf software for the critical software I need to run. However, I'm sure my feelings will change over time, especially as I see and hear real success stories. Of course, these actually exist already in the current forms:

 

-Social application: Facebook, Flickr, and so on

 

-Email: Yahoo, Google, and others provide email access through rich Ajax cloud-based applications. I use this often, but I use Apple's Mail.app on my Mac most of the time.

 

-Google Applications: these include Gmail, instant messaging, calendaring, document editing, blogging, wikis, web site hosting, messaging, and collaboration. 

 

-Amazon Web Services and Compute Cloud: This includes web application hosting, database software, a message queue service, a specialized search service, storage, and more. http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/

 

This list goes on. I recently read about OnLive (www.onlive.com) which offers access to common game software for consoles such as XBox, the Wii, and even PCs, from the cloud. From either a PC, a Mac, or your TV (via a very small device), you can access and play games over your Internet connection instantly, with no installation required. From what I've read, performance is excellent even on low-powered computers such as Netbooks, and television sets. To play games on your television, you'll need a small small device to plug into, but it's much smaller than any game console out there.

 

Where do you think cloud computing is headed, and do you like it? Are there ways to eliminate concerns similar to the ones I outlined above? What innovative new applications can you envision becoming available thanks to cloud computing? Write in the comments section below to share.

 

Happy coding!

-EJB

 

 

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