More on cloud computing…

A couple of posts ago, I talked about Microsoft’s potential move into cloud computing. However, since that time, Microsoft formally announced their development of a cloud-based system and cloud computing has been getting even more media attention. This post is a follow-up to the previous post, and it is meant to be a quick guide to a few more of the current discussions about this new technology.

David Chappell describes the importance of cloud computing in a research report sponsored by Microsoft. He talks about the potential impact that a new type of application environment can have. As he says, “A new kind of application platform doesn’t come along very often. But when a successful platform innovation does appear, it has an enormous impact. Think of the way personal computers and servers shook up the world of mainframes and minicomputers…” While the old world of desktop applications will not go away, a new approach can quickly become the center of attention for new applications, and so desktop development may be passed by for many new and cutting-edge applications. When talking about another way that cloud computing may cause a major disruption, reported that cloud computing will likely allow organizations to more easily outsource non-critical computing processes. This means that cloud computing could also cause further reductions in IT workforces in the coming years.

One recent discussion in the cloud computing arena that has been gaining momentum is related to legal and ethical issues involved with online information storage. Once applications are stored online (as they are with cloud computing), much of the data associated with these programs will likely follow (if it is not already there). The economist reports that “several governments have recently passed new laws forcing online firms to retain more data, and at some point, cloud providers may find themselves compelled to build data centers in every country where they do business.” This is potentially a major obstacle for small to medium sized companies that want to get into the cloud-based infrastructure business. Also important are the ethical issues regarding information storage. A BBC article questions, “What happens when Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and IBM are actually running programs and storing data behalf of their customers? We may criticize Google for censoring search results in China, but what happens when Microsoft data centers are being used to store data on political prisoners or transcripts of torture sessions?” Clearly, the decision of how to handle ethical issues related to the information stored on cloud-based machines will be important.

Another recent discussion looks at how one of the key challenges for cloud providers is to create the entire infrastructure needed to support business applications. Information Week mentions that many platform developers are using other online resources to support their own infrastructure. For example many providers use Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service and Simple Storage Service (S3) to support their online processing and storage needs. As they say, “The advantage is that tasks needing an extra blast of processing power or storage capacity can be handled by Amazon, so-called cloudburst computing.” Also, providers are trying to allow easy integration (for applications on their platforms) with other online environments, such as Facebook. A resource such as Facebook can make it possible to connect employees, customers, and partners in new ways.

These are just a few of the early discussions related to cloud computing. However, as companies develop more powerful infrastructures, application developers will recognize new opportunities for online applications, and the issues related to cloud computing will get larger and more complex. It probably isn’t a bad idea to read up on it now, before the possibilities and issues are hard to get your head around.