Still in the Clouds

I work down the hall from some pretty heavy duty programmers and I asked them to explain “Cloud” computing to me. How is it that a program can reside somewhere else and I’m still able to use it on my computer? I asked them not to be technical. Try this:

When you to go Amazon or eBay you are basically Cloud Computing. Your Browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, whatever) pulls up a screen from Amazon with some places for you to enter information (what you want, quantity, name, address, etc). Working behind the scenes on your computer is a program called Java. Java can do some things locally (check to see if your phone number if it has the right number of digits, ensure there is an @ sign in your email address, etc). It can also go to the cloud computer and get information to fill in the blanks on the screen. – For instance, if you “sign in” to Amazon and are ready to pay, Java (along with a communications program in some cases called Ajax) goes to your information at the Amazon server, fetches it, and fills in all your information automatically. It may even ask you if this “is this JVH” just to be sure.

When you are finished filling in all the information, you hit “done” and the data is sent to the program at Amazon and it processes your credit card, enters the order, and prints out a shipping label. It also remembers what you have done, notifies UPS, sends you an email telling you the tracking number and asks if you would like the book that other people bought who bought the one you just did.

If you were in a parking garage – it would work the same way. When you logged in, you would see a screen that allowed you to enter data about a new parking customer, for instance, or search for past entry information by time or date, or print out a cashier’s activity, or find out how much money was in a certain POF machine. All that data had been collected automatically and stored at the “cloud” site. When you asked for the information, the programs up in the clouds did their magic, and faster than you can say “Jack Robinson,” the information you wanted was there on the screen. You can forward it, print it, or study it.

All this courtesy of your browser, java, ajax,(or similar programs) and the programs resident in a server farm up in the clouds, or more likely in a secure, air conditioned, power backed up, building resting on an internet network somewhere in Boston, or who knows, Hong Kong.

Since the program at the server farm knows how to do many things virtually at once, and since the computers are larger, stronger, and faster than the one sitting on your desk, and since you are using only a very small part of the complex program, you get things done very easily and very fast.

There are alternatives to browser based systems. Some suppliers provide web connected systems with their own interface between you and the cloud. They argue that their systems are faster and have more security available than others. You need to look carefully at each – see the differences, and make your decisions based on your discoveries.

Your supplier can bill you by what features you use, or by how long you are on line, or by the number of transactions you send up to the cloud, or by a combination of all of the above. Is it cheaper than buying the program outright and owning your own data center? That you will have to compute youself. In most cases, however, it certainly is safer, faster, and you will have the most current version of software. You don’t want to be caught with Parking Admin 4.65 when Parking Admin 5 just came out with all those new fancy features.


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