Cloud computing is a technology that uses the internet and central remote servers to maintain data and applications. Cloud computing allows consumers and businesses to use applications without installation and access their personal files at any computer with internet access. This technology allows for much more efficient computing by centralizing storage, memory, processing and bandwidth.

A simple example of cloud computing is Yahoo email or Gmail etc. You dont need a software or a server to use them. All a consumer would need is just an internet connection and you can start sending emails. The server and email management software is all on the cloud ( internet) and is totally managed by the cloud service provider Yahoo , Google etc. The consumer gets to use the software alone and enjoy the benefits. The analogy is , ‘If you only need milk , would you buy a cow ?’ (All the users or consumers need is to get the benefits of using the software or hardware of the computer like sending emails etc. Just to get this benefit (milk) why should a consumer buy a (cow) software /hardware ?

History of Cloud computing

Cloud computing didn’t just arrive on the scene. In one way it has been a process that also played out across many industries. The best economies are always achieved when large numbers of product creation, services or operations are carried out under one roof.Computerworld’s Mary Brandel reported in March that an IBM survey found 76 percent of CIOs expected to have “strongly centralized infrastructure” within five years. Brandel reported that IBM itself had shrunk its data centers from 155 to just five.

But while individual IT operations at companies have always fluctuated between being centralized one decade and decentralized the next, what might force many to remain centralized this time is the growing possibility of the cloud. That possibility, many believe, began in the late 1960s when J.C.R. Licklider inspired the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) to evolve.

Scott Griffin, a journalism and mass communication student, wrote his master’s project on Internet Pioneers and included Licklider. Described as an “idea man” Licklider took a circuitous route to inspire the creation of the Internet, and more. Besides doing research for the Air Force during World War II, he did a stint at MIT where he was first introduced to a computer that could do calculations in real time. From that point on Licklider planted the seeds for the development of not only the Internet, but also “graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate to wherever it was needed.”

According to Larry Roberts, the primary ARPANET architect:

“Lick had this concept of the intergalactic network which he believed was everybody could use computers anywhere and get at data anywhere in the world… He didn’t have a clue how to build it. He didn’t have any idea how to make this happen. But he knew it was important, so he sat down with me and really convinced me that it was important and convinced me into making it happen.”

Cloud Computing Architecture

When talking about a cloud computing system, it’s helpful to divide it into two sections: the front end and the back end. They connect to each other through a network, usually the Internet. The front end is the side the computer user, or client, sees. The back end is the “cloud” section of the system.

The front end includes the client’s computer (or computer network) and the application required to access the cloud computing system. Not all cloud computing systems have the same user interface. Services like Web-based e-mail programs leverage existing Web browsers like Internet Explorer or Firefox. Other systems have unique applications that provide network access to clients.

A central server administers the system, monitoring traffic and client demands to ensure everything runs smoothly. It follows a set of rules called protocols and uses a special kind of software called middleware. Middleware allows networked computers to communicate with each other.On the back end of the system are the various computers, servers and data storage systems that create the “cloud” of computing services. In theory, a cloud computing system could include practically any computer program you can imagine, from data processing to video games. Usually, each application will have its own dedicated server.

Cloud Computing Applications

The applications of cloud computing are practically limitless. With the right middleware, a cloud computing system could execute all the programs a normal computer could run. Potentially, everything from generic word processing software to customized computer programs designed for a specific company could work on a cloud computing system.

If a cloud computing company has a lot of clients, there’s likely to be a high demand for a lot of storage space. Some companies require hundreds of digital storage devices. Cloud computing systems need at least twice the number of storage devices it requires to keep all its clients’ information stored. That’s because these devices, like all computers, occasionally break down. A cloud computing system must make a copy of all its clients’ information and store it on other devices. The copies enable the central server to access backup machines to retrieve data that otherwise would be unreachable. Making copies of data as a backup is called redundancy.

Who’s Who in Cloud Computing

Some of the companies researching cloud computing are big names in the computer industry. Microsoft, IBM and Google are investing millions of dollars into research. Some people think Apple might investigate the possibility of producing interface hardware for cloud computing systems.

Why would anyone want to rely on another computer system to run programs and store data? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Clients would be able to access their applications and data from anywhere at any time. They could access the cloud computing system using any computer linked to the Internet. Data wouldn’t be confined to a hard drive on one user’s computer or even a corporation’s internal network.
  • It could bring hardware costs down. Cloud computing systems would reduce the need for advanced hardware on the client side. You wouldn’t need to buy the fastest computer with the most memory, because the cloud system would take care of those needs for you. Instead, you could buy an inexpensive computer terminal. The terminal could include amonitor, input devices like a keyboard and mouse and just enough processing power to run the middleware necessary to connect to the cloud system. You wouldn’t need a large hard drive because you’d store all your information on a remote computer.
  • Corporations that rely on computers have to make sure they have the right software in place to achieve goals. Cloud computing systems give these organizations company-wide access to computer applications. The companies don’t have to buy a set of software or software licenses for every employee. Instead, the company could pay a metered fee to a cloud computing company.
  • Servers and digital storage devices take up space. Some companies rent physical space to store servers and databases because they don’t have it available on site. Cloud computing gives these companies the option of storing data on someone else’s hardware, removing the need for physical space on the front end.
  • Corporations might save money on IT support. Streamlined hardware would, in theory, have fewer problems than a network of heterogeneous machines and operating systems.
  • If the cloud computing system’s back end is a grid computing system, then the client could take advantage of the entire network’s processing power. Often, scientists and researchers work with calculations so complex that it would take years for individual computers to complete them. On a grid computing system, the client could send the calculation to the cloud for processing. The cloud system would tap into the processing power of all available computers on the back end, significantly speeding up the calculation.

While the benefits of cloud computing seem convincing, are there any potential problems?

Cloud Computing Concerns

Perhaps the biggest concerns about cloud computing are security and privacy. The idea of handing over important data to another company worries some people. Corporate executives might hesitate to take advantage of a cloud computing system because they can’t keep their company’s information under lock and key.

The counterargument to this position is that the companies offering cloud computing services live and die by their reputations. It benefits these companies to have reliable security measures in place. Otherwise, the service would lose all its clients. It’s in their interest to employ the most advanced techniques to protect their clients’ data.

Private Eyes Are Watching You

There are a few standard hacker tricks that could cause cloud computing companies major headaches. One of those is called key logging. A key logging program records keystrokes. If a hacker manages successfully to load a key logging program on a victim’s computer, he or she can study the keystrokes to discover user names and passwords. Of course, if the user’s computer is just a streamlined terminal, it might be impossible to install the program in the first place.

Privacy is another matter. If a client can log in from any location to access data and applications, it’s possible the client’s privacy could be compromised. Cloud computing companies will need to find ways to protect client privacy. One way is to use authentication techniques such as user names and passwords. Another is to employ an authorization format — each user can access only the data and applications relevant to his or her job.

Some questions regarding cloud computing are more philosophical. Does the user or company subscribing to the cloud computing service own the data? Does the cloud computing system, which provides the actual storage space, own it? Is it possible for a cloud computing company to deny a client access to that client’s data? Several companies, law firms and universities are debating these and other questions about the nature of cloud computing.

How will cloud computing affect other industries? There’s a growing concern in the IT industry about how cloud computing could impact the business of computer maintenance and repair. If companies switch to using streamlined computer systems, they’ll have fewer IT needs. Some industry experts believe that the need for IT jobs will migrate to the back end of the cloud computing system.

Another area of research in the computer science community is autonomic computing. An autonomic computing system is self-managing, which means the system monitors itself and takes measures to prevent or repair problems. Currently, autonomic computing is mostly theoretical. But, if autonomic computing becomes a reality, it could eliminate the need for many IT maintenance jobs but at the same time creating some new ones.

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