|This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on July 23, 2008.|
It’s going to be another gorgeous day. We’re right in the middle of the best stretch of weather for the summer, yet the forecast online is for clouds – and this is a good thing.
Boris Mann is a Managing Director of Bootup Labs, a company that helps startups get funding.
“In diagrams, the entire Internet is often displayed as a cloud, representing all the interconnections of computers and servers,” he explains. “As more and more services move online, they start running on servers all over the Internet, rather than in just one location. So, we call it “cloud computing”.”
Even the logo for Apple’s Mobile Me buys into the notion with a white puffy cloud as part of the button.
The service, at $109 a year in Canada, lets you keep your important files in the cloud, accessible by any internet connected computer. It removes the tether between desktop or notebook or phone and your files, they become ubiquitous.
Once you have Mobile Me activated on your home computer system (I have it on a PC desktop, an iPhone and a MacBook), one change in the calendar or contacts on any device will be automatically updated across all devices through the web, or cloud. You can also use Mobile Me to store files that can be accessible across all the devices.
Boris recommends a similar service called Jungle Disk.
“It is an online backup and file sharing system for individuals and businesses that run on Amazon’s S3 file system. Amazon is an ecommerce company, but they got so big that they ended up building their own cloud computing systems that other people can pay them to use. And you only pay 15¢ / GB.”
Using the cloud to back up your computers is brilliant. Not only do you have a backup copy, but the copy is now off site, in case there’s a theft or fire.
“If you had files all in one place, and the hard drive breaks, those files are gone. If the files are distributed through out the cloud, then even if some servers go down, a copy of the files will still be online.”
But just as things can go wrong at home, things can go wrong in the cloud. Mobile Me was slow to get off the ground when it launched earlier this month, leaving some without email for days. This weekend an outage on Amazon’s S3 service had CEO Jeff Bezos pleading for patience and help on TechCrunch.
“I think we are at the dawn of what will be an important industry. Important industries are rarely built by one company,” Bezos is quoted as saying on the site.
Backing up your images with Flickr, or using Google Docs for your word processing are other ways to put the power of cloud computing to use.
With a device like an iPhone, you don’t need a large amount of computing power and hard drive storage if your files are online. Google’s has an entire suite of software called Google Docs that operates like any other word and number processing software you’d buy for a computer, except the data all stays online in the cloud. With an iPhone you can access and edit any of your documents, and they stay with Google – accessible from any other internet connected computer.
“Most people don’t really think of a computer without an Internet connection as being much of a computer at all,” adds Mann.
“The next step is for our entire operating system or desktop to move into the cloud as well, so we can access our programs and files from anywhere. Whether it’s the browser on your iPhone or the “My Documents” folder on your desktop, an online connection will mean that we can get the information or applications we need where we need it and when we need it, without the complexity of “docking” or “syncing”.”
Gregory Thomas-Tench is with Vancouver’s Redwerks. They’re using cloud computing as a way to spread out the stress to their networks, allowing them to grow at a sustainable pace.
“One of our clients, Eckhart Tolle, was interviewed on Oprah a few months ago making us a little nervous about our servers being able to carry the load,” he says. “Cloud computing allowed us to add and delete multiple servers (almost) at the click of a button adding power when we needed it.”
Redwerks also tries to take cloud computing and use it as a way for non technical people to do technical things.
“For example, users can make an entire website just by dragging and dropping text and images into place. Everything technical should be invisible or in the “cloud”.”