Monday, November 17, 2008

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing[1]

Web-based emails, social networking sites, blogging... All these data are stored "in the clouds."

Bob Metcalf and Vint Cerf, great contributors in internet history, talked about the evolution and continuing innovation of the internet. In particular, Bob Metcalfe gave emphasis on the significance of video internet. He discussed how underlying network challenges are being addressed and how end-user equipment, such as camera/webcams, can be readily available so that consumers no longer stay as such but they become information producers as well. YouTube videos are the perfect example, it is one of the most visited/utilized sites in the Web.

As Vint Cerf, Google's Internet Evangelist on his talk in Google site in Zurich, candidly recalls how they overcame obstacles in setting up the internet and optimistically visualizes how it would continue to develop, we are shown a picture of the internet's future.

The internet is inevitably expanding. (Bob Metcalfe even used 5 prepositions to describe this expansion.) Data is flowing in and out of the internet everyday. And it is a challenge to optimize utilization of this data and to transform it to relevant information. Applications are becoming more and more creative; computing is altogether geared to a new level.

This is where university cloud comes in. In a press statement released by IBM and Google, the goal of this initiative was discussed. University computer science students are going to be trained to improve their "knowledge of highly parallel computing practices to address the emerging paradigm of large-scale distributed computing." Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, said they (IBM and Google) are providing the resources to "better equip students and researchers to address today's developing computational challenges." While IBM's chairman, president, chief CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano says they are "aiming to train tomorrow's programmers to write software that can support a tidal wave of global Web growth and trillions of secure transactions every day."[2]

Needless to say, this cloud computing initiative is set to have end user's interest and business in mind.

What started to be a Google software engineer's project in education turned out to be one of Google's productive ventures.[3] Together with Google and IBM, six universities launched a major research initiative on cloud computing. [4]

The university cloud aims to address challenges presented by the internet's rapid evolution. It became very apparent that new programmers and researchers are needed to lead the internet into a more advanced stage. Of course, these universities and students are excited to be part of this big project. Who wouldn't? We could only imagine the learning experience they would have in these clouds.

Communications and Multimedia

Much has been discussed about cloud computing as an answer to business needs. Cost, mobility and collaboration are the primary drivers that may compel small business to say "no to software", to quote's tag line. It could very well be the advantages that communications and multimedia experience from cloud computing.

Vint Cerf mentioned in one interview that he agrees with Bob Metcalfe's bold statement: telecommunications can substitute transportation, one way of addressing the subject of energy efficiency. This could not be truer when the time comes that cloud providers offer telepresence services.

His statement has an impact in communication's role in this age. Through cloud computing, this is not impossible; costs are definitely less. With the mobile phone as a platform and with broadband access continuously expanding, getting data from point A to point B can definitely be a breeze.

Multimedia products have undergone a lot of innovations over the years. We can only speculate how imaginations could and would be pushed further by the power of cloud computing. The most interesting part is collaboration. In our MMS 100 class, we had a collaborative project. We were assigned to build a wiki page, while working with people we had never met. This is one practical experience I had with cloud computing. As they say, all you'd need is a browser. And that was indeed what we used to access our project from the (Google) clouds.

This brings me back to education and multimedia. A Philippine university cloud could be very beneficial to the academe. We would surely need more scholarly journals published, and the cloud would a very good venue to start from. Collaborative works of professionals from different parts of the country would be easier and cheaper.

Another multimedia impact of cloud computing would be the so-called broadband cloud. The digitizing of television, said to be launched on February 17, 2009, would introduce video-on-demand in TV's in the US.

Cloudy cloud

A couple of articles I read gave some reasons why cloud computing is not "the way to go" just yet. Neil Weinberg, wrote a few reasons why this is so. In his article, he mentioned that while the TimesMachine - The New York Time's searchable archives (done by Amazon in only a day for $240) - is an astonishing achievement, examples like these are "few and far between."[5] Jon Brodkin, on the other hand, focused on cloud computing security risks identified by Gartner, an analyst firm in a similar article.[6]


I recall Vint Cerf mention in his Zurich speech, one of the socio-economic effects of the internet is that new business models are born. Anyone can be a merchant on the web as much as anyone can buy anything from the web. Transactions are very simple and buying/selling, as the cliche goes, are just clicks away. An ad and good pictures on your social networking site would do the job. Anyone who happens to visit your site would be aware that you are in business. Your closet is your warehouse: you do not need capital for rent and displays.

This is also the philosophy behind the Long Tail Theory, “the new economic model for media and entertainment industries.” Chris Anderson pointed out that “retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep.”[7] Therefore, disintermediation and the long tail theory occur hand-in-hand in the WorldWideWeb.

"Adapt or die" is how Cerf puts it: even if the cloud is still in the "process of condensation," pun intended, businesses are evolving ever so quickly so that they don't fall on the latter. While new businesses flourish through the internet, on the one hand, they are surely following the Long Tail theory and on the other, they “disintermediated” some other business. Take Amazon for example.

I personally think that though the process of disintermediation is unavoidable in a capitalist setting, it is really cruel for those who were brought to their extinction. In his 1996 article, Phil Wainewright discussed this process in simple, relevant terms. What is true then, is especially true more than a decade (and more terabytes) later.

The Semantic Web

The realization of a semantic web co-existing with cloud computing would make things a whole lot easier for everybody, to say the least. That would be powerful computing at its finest. Some are pessimistic that the semantic web cannot be brought to reality, just as there are skeptics on cloud computing. Mobile phones, laptops and desktops would be devoid of software, and secure browsers are all we’d need. Of course who knows if this is achievable, we must wait a few more years.

The Cloud and I

I am hurriedly typing this entry. My mother is using a Facebook application. My brother is bothering me through instant messaging. My sister is using her mobile phone to check her email... we are in constant use of the cloud. After addressing issues like ownership of data, privacy, and security – it is not impossible to have most computing needs reside on the cloud. Of course, a reliable and, need I say, fast internet connection and cloud provider is needed.

In conclusion, it is good that these innovations are taking place at a rapid pace. However, according to Internet World Stats, only 21% of the entire world population have actual internet penetration. The good news is that the percentage of increase is exponential. Hopefully, the initiative to expand internet accessibility would be advanced further so that more people can benefit from all these available information.

[1] Hayes, Brian. "Cloud Computing." Communications of the ACM July 2008: 9-11.

[2] Business Wire Contributors, "Google and IBM Announce University Initiative to Address Internet-Scale Computing Challenges." Business Wire 08 Oct 2007 17 Nov 2008 .

[3] Baker, Stephen. "Google and the Wisdom of Clouds." Business Week 13 Dec 2007 17 Nov 2008 .

[4] Lohr, Steve. "Google and IBM build cloud computing data centers online." International Herald Tribune 08 Oct 2007 17 Nov 2008 .

[5] Weinberg, Neal. "Cloudy picture for cloud computing." Network Worlds 03 Apr 2008 17 Nov 2008 .

[6] Brodkin, Jon. "Gartner: Seven cloud-computing security risks." Network World 02 July 2008 17 Nov 2008 .

[7] Anderson, Chris. "The Long Tail." Wired. 17 Nov 2008 .

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