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What is ‘the Cloud’?

First lets cover a little history and describe how we got to today’s computing model and introduce some terms on the way.

In the early 1980’s there was a movement from centrally based (or Main Frame) computing to a distributed (or Client-Server) based computing model. Main Frame systems consisted of one very powerful computer (for its day) and a number of ‘dumb’ terminals which were little more than the modern day equivalent of a keyboard and screen (no mouse then of course) Connections were made over wired connections that could support something called RS232 (serial line connection)

In 1982 the first business personal computer was launched call the PC junior from IBM, this was the start of distributed computing. These first PC’s were used as standalone PC’s to start with and then became hybrid Terminals connecting to Main Frames.

Two things happened between then and now – the Main Frames became smaller, cheaper and easier to manage (now known as Servers) and PC’s became more powerful, and easier to use. We also had other developments that facilitated faster and more convenient connections between PC’s and Servers. The internet obviously added huge benefit both from a connectivity point of view as well as provision of information and services.

Today we refer to ‘locally’ connected networks of computers (say, in one building) as being a Local Area Network or LAN. Collections of LAN’s are sometimes referred to as MAN’s (Metropolitan Area Networks) when contained within a few kilometres of each other. The global network that many refer to as ‘The Internet’ is referred to as a WAN (Wide Area Network ) There is more than one WAN but this is outside the scope of this article.

Most offices and households with a connection to the internet will feature at least one LAN. Many of these LAN’s will contain one or more Servers for local storage and other services such as email and media streaming. Remote or Online Storage and other services are made available to users of LANs by large servers located in purpose built ‘Data Centres’ and accessed by LAN’s over the Internet.

The shift from LAN based computing back to centrally administered WAN based computing is the start of what is being called ‘Cloud computing’ due to the perceived black art of connecting to things through the Internet.

Development in technology is today allowing massive computing power to be built as a fraction of the cost previously available. Server Technology today allows the equivalent of your Office Small Business Server to be created very nearly at the click of a button! This technology is referred to as virtualisation, since you have the virtual equivalent of your server created at will on another server platform.

So we can say that: Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand  (similar to other types of network like the electricity grid)

It is in many ways the reverse of the movement from mainframe to client–server in the 1980’s, but it is additionally a paradigm shift. Details are abstracted from LAN users who no longer have a need of expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure (referred to as the Cloud) that supports them.

Cloud computing describes various new ways to consume and deliver IT services based on the Internet. It typically involves the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet. It is a by-product and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet.

The answer is many things, but typically, consider an everyday tool such as Microsoft Office. To date users have to buy a copy of the software and install it on their PC’s, once installed it can be used in conjunction with local storage to manage documents. Without the benefits of certain caching technologies (Offline folders and the like) it is difficult to be mobile and retain the same access to office documents, etc.

Consider Microsoft Office and remote storage delivered as a service from the internet. You still have to pay for the service but you don’t have to worry about your local configuration (Do I have Office on this PC, can I connect to my office server for data, what version of Office is this, etc) You just sit down at an Internet connected PC, login to your Office and work.

We are a little way away from this at present (at least for everyone) mainly due to the limited broadband infrastructure and available and mature cloud products. The rollout of fibre based Internet connectivity products over the next year or so will change all of that.

WHYTEC already has some email clients hosted in the Cloud. Contact Whytec for more information.