Is your head in the Cloud? (an intro to Cloud computing)

March 30, 2008 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Technology Trends | 2 Comments
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Cloud Computing appears to be the talk of the town lately. It’s sure a hot topic at my company, and in talking to some other colleagues around the tech world, we’re not alone. Folks are looking at it in a variety of ways from personal use (gotta put all those pictures and home videos somewhere, right?), to a quick and solid development platform for new applications, to an infrastructure strategy for entire data centers, to building tools to support it. With so many people talking about it, you might be embarrassed to stop the conversation and ask, “What the heck are you talking about?” So let’s get some context so that you can more effectively engage in the discussions, and there’s no better place to start than talking about what exactly this Cloud thing is.

In its simplest form, “the cloud” is a concept that allows you to use computing resources (storage, processing, etc.) as dynamically accessible utilities somewhere “out there”, rather than running local physical machines. That means that you basically use only what you need, when you need it; kinda like the way you use electricity today. When you need more juice, you just plug into an outlet, then you pay for what you use later. At this point you may say, “That sounds like a Grid”, and you would be right. It is — in a way. It’s a certain kind of grid, but grids can be local. The cloud is like a grid in the sky. Clear as mud?

Part of the problem with clarity on the subject is that terms get hijacked. Take the term “grid.” The concept and implementations of grid computing have been around for a long time. But in the last several years, Oracle has done a masterful job of coining the term to be synonymous with their proprietary software that enables aspects of grid computing. Most notably is their database solution called “RAC“, which stands for Real Application Cluster — even though it’s a database. Many Oracle RAC/Grid customers today, and I mean some really sharp ones, still get confused when I ask them: “What is an Oracle grid?” I get all sorts of answers. Then if you ask a pure techie… look out. They will go on for days about why it is blasphemy to call Oracle’s solution a true grid.

Let’s try to distill this into some general definitions so that more fruitful business discussions can be had.

Grid is an architecture that allows multiple physical devices to act as one. Resources can be shared in some form or fashion to gain better utilization and sometimes higher availability of your systems.

A Cloud is a Grid that seems to just magically work. You don’t know what is on the back end. You don’t know how it is linked together. You don’t know where things specifically are located. All you know is that you get what you want, when you want it, and you only pay for what you use.

With that basic understanding, we are now ready to discuss what now seems to be an inevitable “cloudy” forecast in our future.

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