Friday, August 15, 2008

WTF is… Cloud Computing?

posted by Luofei

Many great ideas have never been implemented in a way that lives up to dreams and expectations. But the idea is so good that people keep on trying to make it work. Examples include pen computing, a file system based off metadata rather than a folder tree, and the topic of this “WTF is…”, cloud computing.

Cloud computing is using the internet for computing services as opposed to applications and files stored locally on your computer. Your files and even the programs themselves float in “the Cloud” of the internet. This is a very broad definition of cloud computing; it encompasses many everyday websites people visit. All of the Web 2.0 sites, like Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, fall under the umbrella of cloud computing since data is stored on some server out there and is accessed over the internet.

But there is so much more to cloud computing than just that. Read on to find out about the dream of “the Cloud”.

The ultimate dream of cloud computing is the simplification of the personal computer down to the bare bones. These machines, called thin clients, would be little more than a relatively slow processor, RAM, some storage space, and an internet connection. All the heavy duty processing and computing is moved to the server, so the thin client just needs to serve as a gateway to access and manipulate the data. Thin clients have caught on in some corporate environments, but are not by any means mainstream.

This is not for want of attempts though. Larry Ellison tried back in the day (2000) to push his New Internet Computer (NIC) idea. The NIC was a very basic computer that ran Linux off a CD. It was both an internet appliance for home use and a thin client for business use. The machines did not find much of a market with either audience and soon disappeared from the market place.

Recently, a company called CherryPal resurrected the formula of the thin client with their CherryPal C100 desktop. The hardware is meager, but CherryPal plans to offer programs such as iTunes, OpenOffice, an IM client and more all through modified version of Firefox that the machine runs. Each machine will get 50GB of storage on the server. The C100 costs $249 and was supposed to ship this month but has since been delayed. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be vaporware.

The ultimate goal of cloud computing and thin clients makes so much sense that you must believe in it. With cloud computing, you detach yourself from your computer. Your information is available anywhere there is internet. And thin clients provide the portal to all that data without the complexities of a full computer. While these concepts are easy to believe in, there has yet to be a manifestation of these ideas that lives up to the promises.


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