GUEST EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION
by Thomas Costello
February 2009 — CLOUD COMPUTING
The early stages of every new technology or concept are marked by a "terminology tangle." Everyone tries to define the new technology's boundaries and distinctions and explain its presumed and real capabilities through examples. Cloud computing is no exception. In preparation for this issue, I spoke with an array of techies across the spectrum, from old-school CIOs to cutting edge wunderkinds. Not only did I not find any two people with the same definition, I found people flip-flopping terms and examples within their own conversations. I also found a fair number of tech leaders who gladly admitted they didn't understand it at all, but were happy to learn.
Techies from the '70s are quick to point out that they believe cloud computing is simply a return to the old days of centralized computing—that the "cloud" is nothing more than sharing a centralized infrastructure on a much larger scale, with graphics rather than text. They note that since the newbies didn't live through that era, they don't see that we moved from centralized mainframes to distributed PC computing, and that this is simply a pendulum swinging back into place.
People who entered the technology field around the dot-com era initially believed that cloud computing was just the application service provider model making a comeback with a new label. Their beliefs are reinforced as they watch major vendors roll out commercials touting the value of cloud computing.
Recent entrants into the tech market most firmly grasp both the capabilities and opportunities of cloud computing, but they do lack history's lessons on the risks, challenges, and solutions of centralized computing.
In a nutshell, cloud computing, grid computing, utility computing, and the myriad of names do have significant overlap and differences—and they all provide a vastly new landscape for computing in the future. Cloud computing is the umbrella term that would best be defined as a controlled computing environment that is outside of your self-managed infrastructure. With this definition, you can visualize Google as part of the cloud ... and you could define RIM/Blackberry as part of the cloud, too (which shows that the cloud will reach well beyond what we perceive to be computing devices of today). Grid computing is best defined as an array of computing devices grouped to act in concert to execute very large tasks—think SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project) as the simplest example. Think of utility computing as "pay as you go," right down to the transaction level (not subscription, per seat, and so on).
Non-technology aspects of cloud computing loom even larger and require more attention. Since clouds aren't constrained by geopolitical boundaries, what laws control the privacy of information in the cloud? Who decides disputes (for example, over personal information, copyright, and patents)? How does the cloud manage the differences in existing law (such as encryption constraints)?
While we can't hope to cover the entire spectrum of cloud computing in any one issue, both Computing Now and IT Professional magazine are attacking this topic. This month, Computing Now includes several articles that provide an overview of cloud computing from slightly different perspectives. While they overlap on key definitions, each will make you think of the differing opportunities the cloud can provide. Some interesting links provide both primers and ongoing information relating to clouds. Finally, take a moment to answer our poll questions and watch the results as your peers do the same. And keep an eye out for the March/April 2009 issue of IT Professional, which will include several more articles on cloud computing.
As you'll discover, cloud computing covers a broad spectrum and is truly an exciting gateway to a new topology for global computing.
Thomas Costello is is the CEO of UpStreme, Inc. a Business & Technology Management consultancy located in the Philadelphia metro area specializing in enterprise strategies and software logistics. In addition to more than 25 years of IT experience, Costello is an author, speaker, and advisor to numerous boards, executives, and federal agencies. For more information, please check out www.UpStreme.com.
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