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Will “Cloud” Ever Be a Term of the Past?
Thoran Rodrigues
JAN 22, 2013 13:29 PM
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I know it sounds corny, but change is the one constant in technology. Trends come and go, technologies rise, go mainstream, and are then abandoned for the next best thing, buzzwords fall out of favor. For much of 2011, Cloud Computing was the place where every technology vendor wanted to be. The possibilities of having easy, instantaneous access to unlimited computing resources captured the imagination of the public – for both good and ill – and it seemed like every one was branding their products “cloud-something or other”. For all effects, 2011 was the year that cloud computing went mainstream: before 2011, if you mentioned the cloud, all you got were dumb stares; after 2011, everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Over the course of 2012, the attention of mainstream media shifted from cloud computing to Big Data (which is a topic for another time). As people now focus on the unlimited possibilities of easy access to never ending oceans of data, and on the privacy fears that come from it, we are left to ponder where a technology trend, such as cloud computing, goes after the mainstream.  Will Cloud Computing ever be a thing of the past?

 

Defining the Mainstream Cloud

Cloud computing as a technology trend is both more and less than what was perceived and reported by the mainstream media. Yes, it is about the easy access to computing resources on a vast scale, but people, even those that work on the technology sector, often confuse computing resources with servers. Thus, cloud computing is equated with cloud servers (virtual machines), and with infrastructure-as-a-service providers such as Amazon and Rackspace. Thus, people will fret about the security of moving their software to a virtual machine on Amazon’s data center and keep using Gmail – cloud email – without noticing the contradiction.

Computing resources, and, by extension, the cloud, are in fact much more than only servers. The same way that we can consider storage space, random access memory or processing power computing resources, we can also look at more complex operations in aggregate and consider them a computing resource. Sending or receiving an email or SMS, performing database operations, executing a program, and other operations can be abstracted and offered on a cloud model.

Cloud computing as a technology trend is about the virtualization and abstraction of different layers of a computer’s architecture. On the infrastructure layer this is easy to grasp: I want X number of processors with Y amount of memory and Z amount of disk space to run my operations, and it doesn’t matter if this comes from a large server or a collection of smaller ones, as long as the hardware is hidden from me. As we go higher on the stack, the same abstractions apply. On the platform layer, we should think in terms of operating system calls: I need to store X number of files, or run Y number of processes, and the cloud platform-as-a-service should just do it, hiding away the explicit operating system calls. And the same goes for the service layer. If we think about emails, we want to send and receive emails through whatever browser or client software we use. It doesn’t matter if the service provider has a single server, a full data center or uses cloud servers. It doesn’t matter what email server they are using internally. All that matters for the end user is the service itself, the rest is abstracted away.

 

Moving Over

There are, then, two situations where cloud computing would become a thing of the past. The first, perhaps more obvious one, is when cloud computing becomes the norm, rather than the exception. Like other architecture models (client/server; web) before it, cloud computing will one day become standard practice to a point where no one will need to explicitly say that they are adopting it. You won’t need to say that you use cloud servers, because every server will be on the cloud.

While this is the most obvious and rational situation, the truth is that the term cloud computing will probably fall into disuse as soon as it doesn’t present any marketing advantage for technology companies. As technology marketers shift their focus to the next buzzword that is likely to increase sales, existing terms, even if they endure as technological trends, fade from public use. Even though the cloud has proven to be resilient, we have to wonder how long this will last.

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