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Introduction

The concept of “The Cloud” is still a fairly new one. New enough that it doesn’t yet flow naturally out of most people’s mouths. Interesting though, the creation of the cloud is based around things we are very familiar with. Things that have essentially been hiding in plain sight. This then, is the secret-but-not-so-secret history of “The Cloud,” and it is important because once we know where it came from, it will be far easier to chart the course of its future trajectory.

Evolution of Cloud Computing

Understand then, that in the earliest iterations of the Cloud, “computing” didn’t really factor into it at all. No, what drove the initial creation of the cloud as a concept was two things that developed independently. The first of these was that disk space got really cheap. Computer users today might not realize it, but there was a time when the single most expensive component of a computer was the hard drive. Disk space was always at a premium, and a modestly sized hard drive could run you several hundred dollars. Back then, a modestly sized hard drive might mean a few hundred megabytes of space. Now, of course, you can pop down to your local technology store and pick up a few terabytes of storage for just over a hundred dollars. What changed was that we began building gigantic factories in the far-east where these devices were built by the millions, and as soon as that happened, the price fell through the floor, and continues to fall to this day. One of the immediate effects of this sudden and massive price drop was that a number of enterprising companies started buying up the now inexpensive hard drives, creating an HTML-based front end around them, and started selling “virtual” drive space. A drive that existed “out there” in the ether, that you could store files on, and access from any computer with an internet connection. The idea took root, became popular, and is now considered mainstream (even Microsoft got in on the act, offering space on their “Skydrive” service, for free), and that was the first iteration of “the cloud.” Cloud 1.0. The internet as a storage medium. Hand in hand with this though, and at about the same time, there was another force stirring. Another technology that was making people take note of the internet in a whole new way. The technology was called “Peer to Peer,” (P2P for short), and its implications were staggering. People could sign up to participate, designate certain portions of their own, individual hard drives to “share” with the network, thereby creating an amorphous, ever changing “cloud” of individually housed resources that could be accessed by anyone else on the network. Thus, file sharing was born. It no longer mattered that you didn’t “have” a given file on your PC. If others in your P2P network had it, you could reach into the ether…reach into this “cloud” of data, and grab bits and bytes from here, there and everywhere. Of course, the ultimate goal of P2P was to eventually assemble a complete file on your PC so that it could be enjoyed later, so this envisioning of “The Cloud” wasn’t quite the same as today’s rendition, but the general line of thinking was identical. Utilizing the resources “out there” to bring you something that you desire. This, of course, was the birth of file sharing. For a good while after these two things happened, there was a period of adjustment. It took people a while to get used to storing files someplace other than on their hard drives, and on their trusty CD ROM’s (which was, back in those days, how personal backups were done – whole hard drives backed up on a series of CD ROMs in case the worst happened), and there were a number of bitterly fought battles between the entertainment industry and P2P upstarts over copyright infringement. To be sure, those fights are far from over, but the topography has changed. It now appears that the entertainment industry has resigned itself to the reality that there’s no containing the P2P genie. Sure, they still make the occasional arrest, and they still rattle their collective sabers, but by and large, that battle has been lost by the global entertainment complex, and at this point, P2P technology is such an entrenched part of the internet that it will never be rooted out. Still, at some point after the worst of those battles, an interesting thing started happening. People began to figure out new and interesting ways to utilize the power of P2P in ways that didn’t raise quite so many eyebrows as file sharing.

SETI And Cloud Computing

Among the earliest adopters of this new approach was a group you may have heard of, called SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The bottom line is this: SETI collects massive amounts of data. It takes their computers a really long time to crunch all that data and do something useful with it, so they devised a very clever plan. On the thinking that people weren’t at their computers 24/7, but that their computers could be left “on,” they proposed something remarkable. Join SETI’s “p2p network” and let them use your idle computer cycles to help them crunch data. In other words, SETI figured out a way to use the technology to create a gigantic “web” of interconnected computers that it could send data to for processing. Overnight, they created the largest data center the world had ever known, and it was hugely successful! Once the word got out, there were other groups that tried to copy SETI’s success, and many of those succeeded, but SETI’s was the first, and it really paved the way for what we think of today as “The Cloud.” While SETI was busily creating a worldwide network of computers to look for aliens, other interesting stuff was happening, both on the ‘net and off, that would nudge us a bit closer our current understanding of “The Cloud.”

Further History

Now, at first glance, you might be asking yourself what on earth this has to do with anything, but as you’ll see, it is actually quite important to the history of the Cloud. Things on the internet were changing, and many of these changes were being driven by advances in modem technology. In the earliest days of the internet, the 300 baud modem was your standard means of connecting. It took nearly three years for speeds to reach 9600 baud, but from there, things really took off, and with the advent of the earliest ADSL and Cable Modems, the entire character of the internet changed. At 300 baud, about the only thing you could really see and interact with on the ‘net was text. Plain grey backgrounds and text, but as bandwidth increased, so did options on the internet. Things got much more colorful. Granted, it started humbly. Still shots. Pictures. But in time, as connection speeds continued to increase, video became a possibility, and the ultimate expression of the fact that the internet was becoming an increasingly visual medium was the birth of a little online company called “YouTube.” These days, it seems silly to think of “YouTube” as anything other than the behemoth it is, and of course, it has spawned dozens of competitor services, but yes, there was a time when YouTube was just another struggling site, trying to be noticed on the web. Its success was brought about almost completely by the increasing national bandwidth and faster average connection speeds. Without those, it would take hours, if not days to download a local copy of a video to watch, and video streaming would simply be impossible, and how that relates to Blockbuster Video is this: Once video streaming became possible, it changed the entertainment game. Upstart companies like “NetFlix” began offering video rentals that didn’t involve going to a store and picking up an actual VHS tape or Disc, but simply ordering what you wanted online, and “streaming” the movie straight to your monitor or television screen. It was a game changing, revolutionary technology, and Blockbuster was very slow to react to it. By the time it did, it was already too late. Too much financial damage had been inflicted on the company for it to continue to survive, and it vanished. Another well known name on the ‘net, Apple, saw an opportunity in this arena, and pounced. Their iStore quickly became one of the most visited destinations on the ‘net, and in at least some ways, began to make peace with the sometimes unruly P2P community. From the iStore, you could get nearly any song ever recorded, whole albums, and not long after, videos (including movies, and television shows, either individual episodes or whole seasons). At this point in the history, we have enough data to begin to spot a trend. Something happens on the hardware end (example: giant factories get built in China, radically reducing the cost of storage), and in response, the internet changes (people start offering virtual drive space). Advances in technology see a massive increase in bandwidth and connection speeds, and the internet responds with streaming video and a whole raft of new services. How Do You Use Cloud Computing? For most individual users and small organizations they simply need to identify a provider of the resources they need ( we will look at this in more detail below), subscribe accordingly, then access the resource vie a web browser. They will be given a username and password to access the resource, just like any other subscriber/membership website. Larger cloud computing clients may have a dedicated service and some kind of front end interface that they go through to access it. At the cloud end of the system there will be a network of computers, servers and data storage. The system will be monitored by a central server to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that there is sufficient storage space and processing capacity to meet all their client's needs. Cloud computing providers need to ensure that they have plenty of storage space to accommodate all the information that clients require to be stored and must also store copies of clients' information on other devices in case there is any damage to the main storage area for any reason.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

• No major investment in hardware or software is needed • Access is provided to a much greater range of resources than you would be able to provide for yourself • There is centralised support for and updating of the resources • Access is secure in that you are provided with a username and password • It provides peace of mind knowing that data is being stored securely elsewhere • It is accessible from anywhere in the world as long as you have internet access • It is accessible from a range of devices • There is good reliability of service. Even if one server or data centre were to fail, the backup services would mean that the provider could still run successfully.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

• Cloud computing is dependent on the strength and reliability of your internet connection, so if there are problems with this it will affect the robustness of your cloud experience • Whilst cloud computing is generally secure, it is internet-based so there are always potential risks • The costs of cloud computing can mount up if you do not check carefully what is and is not included in the resources you are subscribing to • Some providers may limit you to their own products or formats so be careful to check that your resources can be configured the way that you want them • Ensure you understand what support and help is and is not included • Remember that everything is remote and you need to be confident operating in this environment

Types Of Services offered by Cloud Computing

The three main areas are Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS), Platform as a Service (PAAS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). We will look at each of these, and look at SaaS in particular detail as this is the area that is more generally applicable to most people. IAAS – IaaS is Infrastructure as a Service. It provides: • Virtual machines • Storage • Servers • Network • Load balancers It is generally used by business customers to create cost effective IT solutions where all the installation and maintenance of the hardware are handled by the cloud provider. As the needs and size of the business change, they can adapt their use of IaaS rather than having to purchase, install and manage hardware themselves. PAAS – PaaS is Platform as a Service and can provide a layer on top of IaaS with features including: • Operating system • Database management systems • Server Software • Web servers • Design and development tools • Hosting PaaS provides the platform and environment resources to allow developers to design and develop applications and services over the internet. SAAS – SaaS is Software as a Service and provides access to software via the internet Virtually any kind of software is now available as part of SaaS. There are generic packages and applications such as Microsoft Office 365, Google, Adobe Creative Cloud - bringing the latest versions of the most popular office and creative software to you for an annual or monthly subscription to the relevant corporation. There is also a wide range of software and apps specifically for small businesses and the provision can be tailored to the specific needs of the business. Some examples of business software include: • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) - for storing and processing customer information and sales/marketing activity • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) - for planning and managing all commercial areas of the business • Management Information System (MIS) - to store the information needed to manage the business • Project Management - to aid in planning and monitoring projects • Human Resources (HR) - for a range of staffing activity including recruitment, training, and payroll • Financial - a wide variety of software is available for accounting, billing, invoicing and transaction processing • IT - web hosting, e-commerce, email and internal communication systems • Legal and Compliance - to help ensure you are meeting the necessary legal or compliance requirements for your business sector

Conclusion

So that’s what we know. All of that is common knowledge. The history of the internet’s development as it relates to “The Cloud.” You may not have seen it compiled and ordered in this particular way, but nothing in what you have read so far should be any great surprise. All of this happened in full view and in real time, and collectively, the forces described brought us to where we are today, and to our understanding of “The Cloud.” Based on the above then, we need only to look to recent changed in technology to see the shape of things to come. So what is the future of “The Cloud?” 1) Computers are changing shape and vanishing. The ability to “farm out” processing to the cloud means that computers can become increasingly smaller and innocuous (Google Glass is the big entrant here, but expect to see others in the years ahead). Wearable computers will become increasingly commonplace. Without the need for bulky processors, or even storage media, computers can be made increasingly smaller. 2) Increased interoperability. Today, you can start watching a movie on your tablet, go to a buddy’s house and seamlessly “switch” the view to your buddy’s TV. Expect that kind of cross platform compatibility to increase and continue as devices of all types begin to work together. This will be brought on in no small part by Cisco’s “internet of objects” which is rapidly turning vast numbers of everyday objects into entities with an internet presence, and almost every appliance, from the humble alarm clock to your refrigerator, to your TV, has at least some on-board processing power. “The Cloud” is expanding exponentially, and in the future, we can expect all of these devices to have a voice and a part to play. 3) Language barriers will vanish along with computers. Get ready for the day of the “universal translator.” The software on the market today does an incredible job of translation, and given the virtually unlimited processing power of The Cloud, the day is coming soon when you’ll be able to speak into your microphone to a native Chinese speaker and have your words translated to his native tongue somewhere in the Cloud, such that he hears your message in his own language, and you hear his reply in yours. True, there are some lag and latency issues to be worked through, but as connection speeds continue to increase, they won’t be issues for much longer. In all, our modern understanding of “The Cloud” is going to lead to a second revolution in computing, and like the initial one that gave rise to the PC, this second revolution is poised to change nearly everything about computing, computers and the way we interact with technology in general. The future is exciting indeed!

References


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