Cloud computing is hot. Every company seems to offer something “in the cloud” and every CEO wants to do something “with the cloud”. It is surprisingly interesting to see how such a meaningless term can produce so much fuss. So, what is this thing and why is it so popular?

In 1966, Douglas Parkhill coined the term “utility computing” in his book “The Challenge of the Computer Utility”. This so-called utility computing is more or less what we call cloud computing these days. In other words, renting computing power by the clock as if it was an utility. The reason that we changed utility to cloud is simple: in diagrams, the Internet is always drawn as a little cloud.

Michael Armbrust et al. (2009) give a wonderful explanation of the three deal-changers that cloud computing has to offer. Namely: cloud computing creates the illusion of unlimited computing power that is immediately usable, it eliminates big commitments, and it enables pay per use.

Services and Clouds: How Does It Work?
From a technical viewpoint, cloud computing refers to the delivery of applications, hardware or systems over the Internet. This is done using so-called services. As the term service represents a concept from the world of marketing, you can probably guess what it means. Instead of buying a product, which you can keep, you pay for a service, which you can buy over and over again.

To give an example, Google’s Gmail is typical for an application as a service. It is accessible over the Internet, you can start and stop using it at any point in time, and you do not have to care about the internals, such as the hardware on which it runs. Although Gmail is free, there also are numerous examples where one has to pay a fee per unit of time or consumption. This clearly shows the idea of pay per use that services remind us of and cloud computing builds on.

No Limits – Or, No Apparent Limits
In the world of cloud computing, one can decide to rent thousands of services on demand at any point of time. Of course, there are limits, but those reside on the side of the provider. A consumer does not care and does not want to care about the borders of the system. It is as if you want to rent some machines at your local hardware store: you just want to rent them at that moment. You do not care how many there are in stock or how they are financed.

The attitude of cloud computing makes starting up a small Internet business even easier than it already is. Due to the immediate ability to rent computing power or to dispose of this computing power, one does not have to make the big commitments of buying hardware. This removes a very large financial hurdle for starting up a digital business. One just has to pay for what he uses.

Spare the User the Details
In cloud computing, or actually, with services, users are spared the details. You do not want to check if your computer has a certain version of Windows and the right amount of memory. You just want to use Twitter or Microsoft Office 360. This removes a very large burden from the shoulders of the end users.

For businesses, this can also be a great help. Where one previously could get lost in discussions on the type of processor and the amount of memory a server should have, a business owner can just ask for his website to run, and pay for the usage afterwards.

Nice Marketing Talk, Bro!
You may have noticed how extremely marketed cloud computing is. In the end, it is just a cool term for something that was already there. Computer scientists can talk about service oriented computing, like I did, but cloud computing is left to our friends in marketing.

On a side note, cloud computing also brought a lot of discussion on privacy concerns, which I did not address in this post. Rest assured that I will discuss them at some point in the future.

2 Responses to Clearing the Clouds: An Introduction to Cloud Computing

  1. […] a previous article (13 July 2012), I discussed cloud computing on a conceptual level. As promised in that post, I will return to the privacy-related concerns in cloud computing. These […]

  2. […] previously explained, cloud computing offers many computing capabilities as on demand services (13 July 2012). Examples of cloud-based products, such as the sales administration software offered by SalesForce, […]

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