What is the model for cloud computing?

15 Comments

CloudsI have been watching Kevin’s "working in the cloud" experiment with great interest as it’s an area that has the potential to benefit a great many mobile professionals.  Equally as interesting are the comments that are being made about Kevin’s challenge and all of this together has me thinking about the cloud model of working.  It is apparent that working in the cloud is so new to so many of us that like many things we often have different views of what it is and why it is important.  It’s worth a discussion to see how we all view working in the cloud.

First up we should probably look at defining what working in the cloud is exactly.  I know that Kevin and my views on this differ and from the community comments so do those of many of you.  So what is it?  I view working in the cloud a lot simpler than some I’ve seen.  For me it largely entails keeping my data in the cloud so I can access from anywhere and anything.  I use a lot of systems in my work and keeping my data in the cloud could allow me to easily pick up where I left off from any system in the mix.  In this model of cloud computing applications and OSes don’t really enter into the mix that much.  Maybe all the systems are the same OS, maybe not.  Maybe the same application software is installed on all the systems in which case the cloud model is just to provide remote access to the data.  This is certainly the simplest scenario and in large part what I would look for most in cloud computing.

I won’t speak for Kevin but I know from conversations we have made on the topic he looks for more from the cloud.  He is not alone in that thought process based on the commentary we’ve seen so far and we should delve into that a bit.  Some folks view cloud computing as being totally OS agnostic, i. e. not just remote data access but also application and OS independent.  That is a valid POV and if that is the primary goal of the cloud computing challenge it greatly complicates it.  That would basically mean that everything you do must be browser-based since that is the only method that is totally independent of the system being used at the time.  Even that approach is not viewed the same for everyone as some have indicated that using browser extensions on a system to increase the local computing capabilities is "cheating".  That viewpoint is interesting to me because apparently those who feel that way believe that a plain-jane browser is the only application that you can expect to find on any computer and so that is what you must use to make a serious run at cloud computing.  I can understand that POV but I’m not sure I would agree that it is the ultimate goal with cloud computing.

I have long felt that to be the most productive you can be you must use the right tools for the job and use them efficiently.  Is foregoing the use of all tools (applications) at your disposal simply to work totally in the cloud the best way to approach your work?  See how quickly this whole cloud computing concept gets complicated and I’m not sure there is a "right" answer.  What do you think about cloud computing and how would you approach it if you were undertaking the challenge with Kevin?  Even further, how do you even define cloud computing and why?  This is getting very interesting and we need to share ideas and thoughts on this.

15 Comments

nomo

There is an intuitive appeal to using web-based applications. I have three primary concerns, though: 1) maintaining full-time internet access with sufficient bandwidth, 2) securing confidential and proprietary data, and 3) managing software/hardware configuration changes on an ongoing basis.

Mark Roddis

@ John Gibson, clearly you need to try out the latest OWA that even gives you the new message “toast”.

But this is getting quite odd.

Was Exchange the first “cloud” application?

No.

Because what we are looking toward here is an age where all the applications and compute power are held “centrally” so you have a lightweight client.

The words “GREEN SCREEN” come to mind!

Have we not gone full circle here?

Suddenly all those users who spent entire weekends tweaking the OS or massing about trying to get Linux working with their Windows only scanner or who gained a great deal of satisfaction when they found a hidden feature through a registry hack seem happy to stop tweaking. To give up all their skills and become just another dumb user! Surely not.

Some stuff naturally lives centrally. Email, file storage, media (all simliar in that they involve files). And we are almost at a point where we are actually running mini applications in the browser.

So in the case of the latest OWA we are almost running a client on the desktop but just happen to run it in the browser. There is still a lot of code sitting in local memory. Adobe Air, Silverlight etc will all continue to enable this but but lets not kid ourselves. There is nothing new here, we are just getting cleverer at it.

Dave P

I tend to agree with you on the possibility of moving to the cloud. Data files work but there are too many tailored applications which are not available.

Beyond data, however, there are a set of applications which many companies have as a “standard desktop”. They would include mail and calendaring (e.g. MS Outlook, Lotus Notes); word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations (e.g. MS Office, Open Office); and PDF. These are the applications that could be served from the cloud.

It’s an interesting reversal from the original cloud – CICS. Then, the mainframe ran highly technical programs for processes which could not be easily done manually. The PC came in as both a client to the corporate cloud and a general purpose computer to run programs (e.g. word processing) that replaced people who used to perform the task (e.g. secretaries and typing pools).

andrew

I got the chance to ask the UK Intel boss whether he forsaw cloud computing resulting in a return to “dumb” local eee-terminals. His reply was that he didn’t think so because you can never anticapte what demands we’ll place on the network next. For example “second life” is arguably cloud based and totally online, but it requires a good spec local pc to actualise, and who knows what is next (HD holography?)

Dave G

I’ve been a long time user of Outlook, using every last bit of its functionality…even tweaking it with GTD extensions. I never invested in exchange server services, but was considering doing so at the same time that gmail turned on their IMAP service. Coincidentally, another service, ‘Remember the milk’ started offering a taskbar addon with Firefox. When I put it all together with 3G communications, I found that the total solution really worked great. My main complaint all along has been the resource hogging of Outlook. Now I’ve got a shared calendar and task list with my business partner and he’s enjoying the same setup as well. I’ve also got my wife sharing a calendar, too. So, for PIM work, I’m loving the cloud life.

Kevin C. Tofel

DavidT… I can’t speak for Matt, but I totally didn’t get it during the show. It was when I was mixing our tracks together that I had the “Oh! THAT’s why he said that!” moment. Duh on me. ;)

DavidT.

James, haha I know! I was surprised neither one of the acknowledged it. I replayed it like six times haha.

DavidT.

All I know is James, in your last podcast you opened with “What a cloudy day” I laughed my a$$ off but nobody got it lol.

Jake

Ha ha, James you’ve hit on one of my pet hates in regards to cloud computing – OWA.

Although it’s handy to be able to access your email from literally anywhere and despite the fact that OWA is a pretty good showcase of what can currently be done in a browser, I hate it if I’m forced to use it for more than just quickly sending an email.

Because it’s browser based I find it clunky, I get tired of the way it times out and I get annoyed that I have a browser window with a browser icon (FF or IE) permanently stuck in my Taskbar (I’m very anal about my Taskbar organisation). I generally minimise Outlook to the system tray and rely on the new mail icon or the pop up reminders to see when I have mail or appointments. In general I prefer the fact that Outlook is a client based application that just picks its data up over http because it means I can rely on a more powerful application to get the job done.

OWA is good when your stuck without Outlook but it’s no replacement as I’m sure you’ll agree.

It’s also worth mentioning the fact that running your mail off an Exchange server allows you to access your mail on your phone using Activesync regardless of whether your phone’s a Windows Mobile device, Nokia or, shortly, an iPhone. This brings us closer to the sort of thing it seems that Kevin is trying to achieve – cloud computing on a limited but internet capable device.

John Gibson

I prefer the model that similar to the one JK talks about. The model that Microsoft is pushing is the right one IMO. S+S (Software+Services). For the foreseeable future software applications are going to be better for productivity. Marry software with the cloud and one has the ultimate solution. As JK points out Exchange is a great example of S+S… Features with Outlook that no web based solution can match combined with a version accessible from a web browser when one isn’t at their own PC. Pure cloud plays are interesting and maybe one day they’ll close the productivity gap but they aren’t there yet and it will be a long time before they are.

Gavin Miller

If we are just talking about checking mail, a bit of blogging and maybe report writing then yes, working in the cloud is feasible today. However, I’m not going to be doing any Cad work, developing training packages, conducting real time site surveys, note taking, financial modelling, document scanning and OCR and similar without my core client apps.

This is a really interesting area but it is going to be a long time until we can guarantee internet connectivity everywhere. 3G networks are getting close but you just need to be in a basement meeting room, on the train/plane or out in the sticks to lose net access and leaving you unable to work, defeating the purpose of being mobile.

For the forseeable, cloud computing will be complimentary to our core devices and apps. Great for backing up, sharing and communicating.

James Kendrick

Jake, you’ve touched on something that drove me to wrote this post in the first place. I too have been using a hosted Exchange Server for over 5 years. I view this as the original cloud application as I access it via the web where my data actually resides. I can access my ES data from any Windows device, my Mac and even my smartphones (WM and Blackberry).

Yes I use the client Outlook to access it primarily but I don’t have to. The reality of it is that all these devices access the ES via HTTP, a browser protocol. In fact I can work with the ES totally via the browser using Outlook Web Access should I so desire so it definitely meets my definition of cloud computing. I believe that those who are calling for “true” cloud computing, i.e. browser-only computing, are actually looking for free computing. This is totally different than a strictly cloud computing solution in my book.

It’s important to note too that with a hosted ES I can create public folders for documents that I frequently work with which allows me to be pretty device independent with that work. Cloud computing? I believe so.

sbtablet

It seems to me that the Cloud Computing experiment has a lot to say about the future of-small, low power devices. Can I buy an inexpensive EEE PC and not miss the high power laptop? Cloud computing, using web based applications, could make that really possible. (The EEE is not for me, yet because I NEED inking.)

Kevin’s experiment, to me, will really help answer the question of how realistic that is right here & now. In my estimation, if something is available and practical for use in the browser, it’s fair game for the purpose.

Jake

I currently rely on Outlook via a remote Exchange server and remote desktop for quite a lot of what I do. This combination works very well for me (especially Exchange which I couldn’t live without) but there are limitations to working over the internet despite increasing bandwidth.

Moving large files around is still too slow to really work for me and I’m yet to find an online backup/file repository that I can really be bothered using. For instance, if I have to wait more than a few seconds to move a file into the cloud then I’m unlikely to bother and will just stick it on a USB key or something.

I can’t see myself abandoning client side applications for many many years although I do find it useful to see how others manage and look forward to improvements in this sort of thing.

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