The tech industry loves its buzzwords — Web 2.0, P2P, wiki, blog, MMPORPG, yadda-yadda — to the point of absurdity. It’s as if the denizens of the wired world deliberately come up with new words and concepts to confuse and bedazzle us, needless complicating an already complicated subject.
Such is the latest buzzword, “cloud”, which some companies are jawing about in recent commercials as if it were something new and exciting, which it is not. What is the cloud, you may ask?
Basically, it’s a whole lot of nothing. It’s not a new technology or a new piece of software, it’s just a new way of looking at how people already network and work on the web, and have for several years now.
It’s really about speed and efficiency. The cloud makes sense for companies who provide web services to make that service as fast and widely available as possible, so they allow versions of their online software to be accessible from other servers in a high speed network to make the experience as seamless as possible for customers. Or for people to collaborate on a document or project because they both have cached versions of the same software, eliminating the need to route everything through a central server.
You don’t know if you’re getting a service through the main servers or through a series of proxies with cached versions, and therefore you shouldn’t care. It just works.
Within a closed network, the cloud is an organizational chart that determines how people connect, where data and network software is kept, and how that information is shared (e.g. an office intranet).
In an open, public network, the cloud is kind of like Web 2.0 — a concept where the software and data storage can exist on a “cloud” of decentralized servers which you access remotely through your Internet browser.
Examples include Google Apps (www.gmail.com), Splashup (www.splashup.com), and the new Azure Services Platform announced by Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/azure) that includes Microsoft Live services like Messenger and Folder Share, and will one day include high-level tools for software and web application developers. This will probably make more sense when Windows 7 comes out and you can access your desktop, browser favourites and applications remotely from any computer, or link up computers in your personalized network.
You can’t grasp cloud computing any more than you can grasp an actual cloud. Every explanation I read is a little bit different, leading me to believe that “cloud” means nothing specific, but is actually a catchall term for a lot of different networking concepts that only a handful of people really need to know about.