Cloud Computing, The Future Takes Nebulous Shape

You've probably heard the buzz-word "Cloud Computing" tossed around recently.  Cloud Computing is the next big thing in remote and distributed computing and is very much in fashion now for many industry bellwethers like IBM, Sun, Amazon, Google and storage giants like EMC.  You don't have to have a degree in IT to see it coming together.  If you've played around with Gmail or Google Docs, even as an end user, you've already seen the beginnings of something big, really big.  As with any budding new market however, there are a lot more questions than answers these days, perhaps because the possibilities are seemingly infinite.  Let's take a quick gander at a basic high level understanding of how the cloud works and what the building blocks are.

Cloud Computing High-Level Diagram, Courtesy: Wikipedia

The term "cloud" was originally coined by networking technologist to explain a group of resources connected together as one.  These days, coupled with the word "computing", the cloud takes on a whole new meaning.  The concept is quite simple actually but it's the forces at play that leave us all speculating how the landscape will take shape.  As the internet's capacity has scaled and enabled powerful new functionalities, real-time virtual resource access and billing/metering of those resources, the Cloud Computing model gained serious traction.  The market has evolved from offering not only enterprise and educational institutions, services like Amazon's EC2, but also services like Google Apps are being offered all the way down to the average end user.

Liquid Computing's
Fabric Computing Architecture

At a high level, there are a few usage models of Cloud Computing that have begun to take shape.  SaaS or Software as a Service, is what is generally thought of when you consider services like Google Apps or  Let's face it, from the end user and SOHO crowd, to big businesses that are making use of services like Salesforce, you can see the huge value in outsourcing certain applications, not only from a cost standpoint but for ease of use and collaborative efforts.  Then there's Utility Computing, another variation on the Cloud concept, that offers raw virtual server resources to corporate entities, IT departments, and even educational institutions.  Need more capacity or throughput from your Data Center?  Just provision more resources with a place like Liquid Computing and kick back for a coffee break.  Not to mention, you'll probably sleep better at night because someone else has built the infrastructure for you already that will cover your assets, so to speak, should some sort of catastrophic hardware or other failure take place.

In the final analysis, there's no question that Cloud Computing, Grid Computing, Utility Computing or whatever else you'd like to call it, is definitely the wave of the future for many applications and usage models.  Granted, the average power user or enthusiast will likely still have a powerful desktop or notebook system for many years to come.  However there's something taking shape on the horizon that looks a little like Web 2.0 for computing hardware and compute resources -- a shared, collaborative and leased commodity, always accessible and shaped by the customer. It's a compelling business case to be sure with lots of competition filing into the market place.   The questions that remain are many and various.  What will the dominant player be for the various service types?  What will the killer apps look like?  And probably more importantly, will the transport providers supporting the internet backbone -- the Ciscos of the world -- be able to scale quickly enough with it?  Some rather smart folks better have a few precision crystal balls at work for these questions because it's coming fast and furious but there are many of us that can't quite make out what it looks like just yet.

The Data Center, HotHardware's new community for IT professionals, is sponsored by Dell's Future of Storage. This article is part of our ongoing series of topics and discussions related to IT, Enterprise Storage and related storage technologies.