The first ideas, indirectly related to what we understand today as cloud computing, and describing the possibility of computing using remote computing centers, date back to the 70s and 80s. However, the public history of cloud computing itself in modern implementation begins around 2006. It was then that Amazon, which does not need to be introduced, introduced its Web Services infrastructure, which provides not only hosting, but also provides remote computing power to the client. Following Amazon, Google, Sun, and IBM introduced similar services. And in 2008, Microsoft announced its plans in this area. Moreover, Microsoft announced not just a service, but a full-fledged cloud-based operating system, Windows Azure.
At first glance, Microsoft was not able to overtake its competitors in the cloud – the official release of Windows Azure took place only at the beginning of 2010. However, today Windows Azure remains one of the largest and most comprehensive cloud computing projects. But 2010 can be considered an important date in the history of cloud technologies, not only due to the release of Azure, but also due to the appearance of a number of cloud services that are aimed not at developers, but at ordinary users. And just by the example of one such service we will try to explain the essence of the concept of cloud computing.
Cloud computing concept: a user perspective
On July 17, the OnLive cloud service was launched in the United States, providing the ability to play modern games even on the simplest equipment. Technically, it looks like this: the game itself is located on a remote server and graphics are also processed there, which is delivered to the end-user computer in a “finished” form. Simply put, the calculations that a video card and processor perform during a normal game on a computer are already done on the server, and your computer is used only as a monitor. You can even use a regular TV, only you have to buy a miniature OnLive MicroСonsole set-top box, which will be the connecting link between the user, the service and the display device.
Actually, this information already hides the answer to the question “what is cloud computing.” Cloud computing is a new paradigm that involves distributed and remote processing and storage of data. The cloud (we wrote this word with quotes before, but over the past two years it has spread so much in its computer meaning that it can already be used as a term, and not as a metaphor) – this is nothing but a major data center ( or a network of interconnected servers). In the case of OnLive, files are stored in this data center (in this case, games), and it is there that all the computing operations are performed. What does it mean? This means that all problems with computer performance and the amount of free space on the hard drive are automatically removed. In addition, there is no need to pay quite a lot of money immediately for a product that you do not necessarily like. It is no secret that most of the games do not want to be repeated, so it turns out that the cost of several hours (or even several days) of pleasure is unreasonably high. Much more convenient would be an option in which you would pay only for the time that you play. Or (if this option is psychologically inconvenient for you) – you would pay a certain small fixed amount monthly, which would allow you to play any of the available games without restrictions. This is what OnLive offers.
Another gaming service that also provides rich Internet functionality and is related to cloud technologies is Xbox Live . The essence of the service is that owners of Xbox 360 consoles and PDAs based on Windows Phone 7 can play computer games and communicate with each other, as well as buy new games, add-ons and various multimedia content in the online store. Thus, Xbox Live creates a kind of virtual universe for gamers, whose components are not located on the end-user consoles, but in the cloud. However, unlike OnLive, Xbox Live does not imply (at least for now) the processing of audiovisual content, eliminating the need for a console / PDA.
SaaS software – benefits and issues
But the main thing is that both services offer us games as a service. Now imagine that this is not about games, but about software. That is, you pay not for the product itself (roughly speaking, for a box with a disk), but for the specific functions / capabilities that this product provides you. And here we come to one more key concept from the sphere of cloud technologies: Software as a Service (SaaS for short).
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According to the SaaS-concept, you do not pay at the same time when buying a product, but rather take it for rent. Moreover, use exactly the functions that you need (and, accordingly, pay for them). For example, once a year you need a certain program. And more often you are not going to use it. So why buy a product that will lie idle with you? And why waste space on it (in an apartment, if it’s a box with a disk, on a hard drive, if it’s a file)? Here, of course, one can argue that the programs that we use from time to time, as a rule, are small in size and price, and it is easier to buy them once, then without thinking about it. And if the online service (providing the full functionality of this program) is free? Already you can think! Two competitors, Microsoft and Google, went exactly this way. Both companies have released a set of services that allow you to work with documents. Google has Google Docs, Microsoft has Office Web Apps.
Imagine that you wanted to open your own business and create some kind of website. We bought a server, hired an IT employee, launched our site … At first, there are few visitors, and the server copes with the load, but then the site is advertised by a well-known blogger, the number of visitors increases sharply, and you have to urgently buy new servers. And therefore – to buy software, hire employees, look for additional premises and so on. In general, spending soars to heaven. But here the number of visitors is stabilizing, and it turns out that servers work on average 10-15 percent of their capabilities. Only occasionally does the number of visitors increase enough to load the servers sufficiently. And sometimes it even happens that the servers are overloaded – and then your visitors begin to experience difficulties communicating with the site. How to solve this problem? Take advantage of the cloud. You can place the site in the cloud, and you will only have to pay for the capacities that will be really used, the traffic that will be really created. This will save you from the need to purchase additional equipment in case of peak loads and at the same time eliminate the problems with the daily maintenance of multiple servers. How is this different from regular hosting? By the fact that in addition to the physical placement and support of your site, you are also provided with the necessary software (which is also located in the cloud), scalability and endless possibilities for expansion.
We give one more example. Let’s say you own a design studio. As a rule, several people work in it. But once a large order arrives, which must be completed in a short time. You have to hire outsiders to work on the project. However, they also need to be provided with expensive professional software so that they can work! What to do? Buy additional licenses, although you know that they will not be used later? Let’s say. But you still have to spend time and energy to install and configure this application on each computer. And then – for service. That is, in addition to new designers, you will have to hire a new IT employee … In general, this is not the best option. It is much more convenient to use the online version of the necessary software, paying only for the time that employees used this software. Moreover, you automatically avoid problems with the configuration, administration and support of the program. By the way, not only users benefit from this, but software manufacturers themselves. Why? The answer is simple: because it completely removes the problem of piracy.
This problem encompasses softwares as well as mobile apps and subscription services. You can take a look at leaks on Onlyfans (OnlyFans Bypass) or distributions of cracked softwares in the internet.
As a matter of fact, we gave only a couple of private examples. Speaking globally, all cloud technology options imply a subscription payment model. Moreover, not only in terms of software, but also in terms of hardware resources. And this is called Pay as you go. Well, for those who do not need hardware resources, they can simply rent the required applications (and here we return to the concept of Software as a Service).
Applicable to corporate needs, application rental provides the following benefits:
- Low initial investment in IT (no need to buy hardware, software, pay for installation and configuration of the solution)
- Cost optimization (monthly payment upon use)
- Risk reduction (software licenses do not need to be put on a balance, that is, there is no liability, the service provider is responsible for the smooth operation of the service)
- Scalability of solutions (you can easily increase and decrease the number of users, add new solutions)
A look into the future
Despite the obvious advantages, the very concept of cloud technology is criticized a lot, and from various sides. The main complaints are related to security (is the data in the cloud well protected? And is it not likely that the owner of the data center will decide to use the data entrusted to him?) And the vital need for reliable broadband Internet access. We will not be bogged down in a polemic now, especially since these points are really not so obvious. However, despite all doubts, the future of cloud technologies seems to be the most rosy. The proof that this is not a temporary hobby, but a new way of developing high technologies, is the following fact: no matter how strong the contradictions between the three giants – Microsoft, Apple and Google, no matter how different the views of their leaders and ideologists on the development of the industry and needs users, almost simultaneously they entered this new (so far) territory, and are not at all going to leave it. Moreover, it is with cloud technologies that all three companies connect their future. And let Microsoft blow it around every corner, and Apple, on the contrary, does not make high-profile statements and keeps its plans secret (among which, in particular, they call creating a cloud version of iTunes), however, things speak for themselves. Just two years ago, the concept of cloud computing seemed like just a beautiful idea, “Manilovism”, a strange experiment. Today, even those people who are not connected with software development, web technologies and other highly specialized things (the aforementioned Xbox Live, Windows Live, MobileMe, OnLive, Google Docs are vivid examples of this) can feel the benefits of cloud technologies.