Cloud Computing 101

Brian's Take on Tech

Bringing you info about technology, and how it impacts your life for better and worse.   -Brian K, Community Partnerships Supervisor

Recently Google announced that they would jump into the cloud computing and storage market with a product called Google Drive. I was reading about the service and thinking about the proliferation of products on or coming to market and the fact that many people have no clue what they are or what they do. So I present to you Cloud Computing 101, coming to you from the cloud.

I wanted to make sure I didn’t give out any bad information so I figured I needed to do some research. One of the first things I came across was the National Institute of Standards and Technology definition of Cloud Computing. Their definition is so approachable, I thought it would be fun to use a portion of it here to help me explain to you what cloud computing really is. In the interest of making this understandable to mere humans, I will try to give you the Cliff Notes version after each section. Keep in mind that as I too am a mere human, this may be a dubious task; so while I am hopeful that my interpretation is sound, I wouldn’t recommend using it in any term papers.

What they say: Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.

What it means : Cloud computing refers to the ability to share data and computing power across a whole bunch of your stuff (ie. home computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, tablet computer, Xbox, smart phone, etc.)

Here are the essential characteristics as listed in the NIST definition.

What they say: On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

What it means : You can sign up when you want, for as much as you want, without having to talk to people.

What they say: Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick  client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

What it means : You can access your data over the internet with a whole bunch of different devices.

What they say: Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.

What it means : Your data and / or processing power is stored on the same server with a bunch of other people’s stuff and can be accessed or utilized as you need it, where you need it.

What they say: Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

What it means : You can use more or less based on your need.

What they say: Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resources use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

What it means : You can monitor how much you have used and how much you have available.

What it comes down to is this: when we look at cloud computing we are really talking about two distinct things. There is cloud storage and there is cloud computing. Cloud storage lets you take advantage of other people’s servers to store your data. Those servers can be accessed by most any device that can get on the information superhighway. Your data is private and secure, though it should be noted that web servers, like any computer, can be hacked, so make backups and consider what you place on the cloud ahead of time. One of the more well known examples of cloud storage is the photo sharing site Flickr; though many of the new products allow the storage of any type of data in any format (music, video, pictures, documents, etc).

Cloud computing is a bit more complicated. In the case of cloud computing you are using the processing power and software on web based servers to do your work. Think Google Documents where your entire work space is hosted on the web. One of the principles behind cloud computing is that consumers can purchase lower powered (cheaper!) electronic devices and still be able to perform the same types of tasks they need their desktops for today.

Another example of how cloud computing is used is in Amazon’s Silk web browser on the Amazon Fire. Silk uses the Fire’s processing power for the bare minimum of work. To do this it sends your web browsing requests to Amazon’s servers, which do the heavy lifting and simply stream the content you need at that moment to the device. It can even anticipate what you will ask for next and have that ready to go when you ask for it. That is an oversimplification,  but I hope it illustrates the point. If you would like to know more about how Silk works check this out.

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