What Is This Cloud Computing?

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Whats this cloud computing?  Do I want it?

Two questions, and where are the simple answers?  Look no further this article will give you enough insight to understand the “whats”, “ifs”, and “do Is”.

First a little history … at one time, not that long ago, the Internet was not a fun place.  I am sorry to say, there was a time when our beloved net was harsh and forbidding, and only a few people had access.  The vast number of computer nerds were using stand alone machines, loosely linked by a system of telephone systems (fidonet for instance).  The net existed for university personnel to swap information about astronomy, physics and play “Dungeons and Dragons”.  If you were accessing the Internet in those days, you might have a “dumb terminal” a machine that had little or no memory and connected to a college or government mainframe.  Almost no software existed for your dumb terminal, instead you used the programs on the mainframe being accessed.  There was no storage on the dumb terminal rather your files (most often text) were also stored on the mainframe.  It wasn’t a bad system, but by today’s standards it was difficult to use.  There was one thing that was very good about it: files could be easily accessed and collaboration on projects were “easy”.  In fact this was one of the things the computer was originally designed to do.  No more collecting geniuses and moving them to the middle of Nevada, now a scientist  at SCAL, a scientist at MIT and a bureaucrat at the Pentagon could all work on the same project from the comfort of their own terminals. Beings the mainframes were linked together as servers the data and the programs were stored in the same place (on the same machine). If you created a document then you had to use the text editing software on the mainframe. Word processors were virtually unknown.

Then things changed … the dumb terminals were the first things to go.  Computers became more and more powerful and the prices fell. The era of the desktop computer arrived, and life was good.  Except that getting all the various brands of machines to communicate with each other was no small chore.  “Commodore”, “Radio Shack”, “Amiga”, and others had different file structures.  

It took several years for the IBM compatible to become the dominant platform, and another few years for the Internet to become usable to the average user.  The standardization of the computer world is still happening. The trend now is away from desktops toward mobile computing, laptops and even “cell phones” are computer capable these days.

History lesson over:  The problem now is that many people have several computers, home, work, PDA, Phone, camera, and whatever else. Keeping files up to date “Synchronizing” data is difficult when you have a document saved on several different machines.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you had just one file saved in a secure place and then you could work on it with whatever machine you were using? Sound familiar?  It is the exact same concept that was happening in the 1960’s when mainframes were being linked into the network(s).  Consider that you have a document that you work on from time to time.  For instance a journal, if you have one computer the journal is a file that you load and edit whenever you want, easy and simple.  Unfortunately it becomes inefficient with more than one computer contributing to the information.  The old technology solves the modern problem.  We put the journal on an Internet connected computer — just one file, and we can access it from any place in the net using whatever computing device is available.  That same server has programs so we can edit that one file.  A nice bonus is that we can share the file with whomever we need to.  Now we never have to worry about which version of the file we are dealing with — there is only one version.  Where is that document?  Hmmm, its, well, over there? No!  Perhaps it is up there?  “Up there computing” maybe … wait I got it!  There are clouds up there …. brilliant!  We will use the catch phase “cloud computing”.  It would be tempting to say that cloud computing is a giant step backwards in information technology, but that wouldn’t be accurate.  Cloud computing is better described as an upgrade of previously used information handling techniques made useful again.

Several things had to happen for cloud computing to re-emerge as an important computing tool. Inexpensive memory was essential, because vast amounts of data have to be stored on one computer.  The Internet had to become virtually universal.  Security procedures had to be strengthened to keep all this data “safe”.  Easy to use programs had to be developed allowing users to work on the documents being stored.  Several years ago all these things came together.   Probably the most important component was the user interface.  The Internet Java-based text editor is not only easy to use, it is very powerful, and commonly used on the net.

Google offers a suite of programs for cloud computing.  It takes a little getting used to, but it works rather well, it is also a free resource.  It offers the ability to store and edit various kinds of documents. It is possible to access the documents from any Internet access point, and it allows for sharing and collaboration.  To some of us old timers, this is what the Internet was meant to do.  If you are interested in trying cloud computing for that new journal or just to experiment this is probably a good place to check it out.  

Concerns:  As you may have guessed the big problem is security.  While nobody wants to believe that the web might not be secure … we all know better.  If you want high security then cloud computing isn’t for you (yet, and maybe never).  If you want, efficiency, and collaborative work then your future maybe in the clouds.
 

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