What the heck is cloud computing?

There is a lot of talk these days about “cloud computing”. Not many people know what cloud computing is, there has been much confusion around the topic. Cloud computing is what has been hailed as the next step: Automatic or transparent, dynamic provisioning, as needed by one’s application.

Hello, I’m Eric Windisch, a new editor here at Time Doctor Dot Org.  I consider myself to be a Unix/Linux systems administrator, business owner, industry analyst, and in other words: a geek.  I’ve been asked to bring some technical content to this site, which I hope I can do in a way that will be both interesting and informative.  My first article is “What the heck is cloud computing?”, please enjoy. – Regards, Eric Windisch


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There is a lot of talk these days about “cloud computing”.  Not many people know what cloud computing is, there has been much confusion around the topic.  To date, the two common thoughts I’ve heard expressed have been: “this is nothing new” and “this is new and will change everything”.  Yes, those are pretty stark differences in opinion.  Personally, I’m of the latter sect, believing that the former simply do not yet understand cloud computing efforts.  Still, it is easy to understand why cloud computing doesn’t seem very new at all.  It is not a new technology, but more of a paradigm shift.

To put it plainly, cloud computing outsources scalability through a programatic interface.  The traditional way of adding more server resources has been to simply buy and deploy more hardware.  Subsequently, the rise of virtualization allowed dynamic provisioning of hardware resources either internally, inside an organization, or externally through a hosting provider.  Cloud computing is what has been hailed as the next step: Automatic or transparent, dynamic provisioning, as needed by one’s application.

Those familiar with memcached are aware of how it can be used to provide scalability for their applications.  However, to run memcached, one must deploy new servers running the service.  When more servers were needed, they would be deployed as necessary.  When fewer were needed, they would either sit idle, or be de-provisioned.  Alternatively, a cloud service providing memcached, or a similar application, would provide a pool of memcached servers and you would never have to worry about adding or removing servers.  With our memcached example, the customer would simply pay per request to the service.   Quite simply, by using a cloud hosted service, the task of scaling is outsourced to the service provider and the customer only pays for what they use.  This is likewise with cloud-based disk storage, the customer adding as many files to their infinitely sized storage pool, as they desire, simply being charged according to their utilization.  Utility billing has been identified as an essential ingredient of cloud computing.

… allowing virtual worlds to stay open for longer.

To be honest, many of these cloud services might not seem all that interesting unless you’re a developer.  However, this movement will indirectly benefit end-users too, even gamers.  Within the gaming sector, I believe that this movement will revolutionize MMORPG gaming first and foremost.  If MMORPG games built on top of cloud computing infrastructures, their servers would no longer be limited to a set number of users, would not slow or become bogged down.  Quite simply, they would become scalable.  Furthermore, online worlds could be deployed with minimum hardware and hosting costs as they would only pay for the resources they use.

Online worlds have suffered scalability and availability issues
Online worlds have suffered scalability and availability issues

Currently, when an online world is launched, the developer must build a server farm to support it.  They must not build the farm too large, due to the risk of complete failure, but they must not build it too small, or risk not having enough slots on their servers.  Cloud computing changes this as it would offer an ability to support any number of player slots, large or small, without any significant upfront investment by the developer.

Not only does this help with the establishment of online worlds, it helps prolong their life as well.  The cost of maintaining a game with cloud services as it decreases in popularity will be lower than with traditional methods, allowing virtual worlds to stay open for longer.

I welcome all feedback, ideas, and opinions.  Thank you for accepting me into your collective.  Live long and prosper.

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