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MAIN Arrow to Computer AgeTechnology Arrow to Cloud Computing Cloud Computing

questions about the cloudIt's the hottest topic in computing today, but what exactly is ... cloud computing?

According to the experts and computer nerds (who are notoriously inarticulate when explaining things to mere mortals) cloud computing is the ultimate in plug-n-play.

In the not too distant future, goes the theory, the world will one day only need one giant server holding all the world's data, software and computing resources.

That includes word processing or web design software, mail, instant messaging, games, collaboration and development tools, all stored and accessible in a single place. Like your public electrical utility, you will simply subscribe and pay as you go for services on demand, with your PC or laptop acting only as a receptacle.

If all this already sounds familiar, popular free examples of cloud computing over the internet include Google Docs, Gmail, Hotmail, and virtual communities like Facebook and Twitter, which store on its servers your personal documents, email, or online exchanges behind a password protected account.

Connecting to the cloud

Ready to be assimilated? Well, it's not quite the Big Brother scenario that critics make of it. In fact, some think cloud computing is simply an overhyped version of the early timesharing model, when everybody accessed a mainframe from their workstations.

This is seen in the most common form of cloud computing (SaaS, or "software as a service" typically pronounced 'sass') i.e., running software over the internet and simply accessing it via a browser. Instead of residing on a personal PC, all the data you write or manipulate with the chosen software is then stored on an outsourced server.

"Hardware as a service" (HaaS, or more commonly known today as IaaS, "Infrastructure as a service" ) is another form of cloud computing that holds the most promise for leveling the playing field for smaller and medium-size businesses, which can reap tremendous savings on start-up investment by simply leasing super computer power from a service provider.

So who do you trust with all your data?

As costs for data storage and individual business software installations increase on a company-wide basis, it will simply become cheaper to outsource to a service provider who will be responsible for keeping every bit of hardware, software and accompanying data up and running.

These providers will also (hopefully) keep it free from corruption, as well as private and secure. And therein lies the dark rumblings in the forecast, which predict cloud computing as an outsourced service ultimately pitting convenience and cost savings against the loss of control.

In future, experts foresee the debate only getting thornier as financial pressures mount, forcing a choice between plugging into a server "somewhere out there" and traditional inhouse management.

More about cloud computing around the Web:

In short, keeping personal or business data safe within a cloud computing environment is probably the most important factor in making the leap. Before you do, take the online umbrella tour of virtual computing at top sites offering more information and opinion, and expert tips and advice on the potential cost savings, possible security pitfalls, and the future of cloud computing ....

How Cloud Computing Works - From the folks at HowStuffWorks with an easy guide to its architecture, applications, potential problems and advantages, with related photos and illustrations.

Cloud computing - Wikipedia entry with a great overview of its history and development, how it is applied and deployed, with more on related controversies and security issues.


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