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What is “The Cloud”?

What is “The Cloud”? You may have heard this question asked recently, or even asked it yourself. The amount of interest and media coverage of the cloud, unfortunately, has made it difficult to answer that question – it seems that everyone has their own answer. However, using the simple acronym O.S.S.M. provides a quick and easy definition of The Cloud. This definition applies across the different cloud platforms and is easy to remember. We can thank cloud expert Dave Nielsen for providing it. O.S.S.M. (yes, pronounced awesome!) is defined as:

On Demand - The cloud is setup and available at the time it is needed. In the early days of cloud computing, Intel provided cloud services that required lengthy negotiations as well as a multi-year contract. With other cloud providers, sometimes you are tasked with installing and configuring an operating system (Windows, Linux, etc.) before you can do anything useful. With Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, all that is needed is a credit card and a brief signup. Anyone can have a cloud presence within minutes.

Self Service - The cloud is available to be turned on or off directly by the customer - whenever they want. Once it is setup, you do not need to contact a support department to change things. No hardware ever needs to be physically touched. With Azure, you are able to bring up, bring down, reconfigure, deploy and redeploy as needed.

Scalable - The cloud is architected to provide scalability. As the demand on your application grows, the cloud is able to expand with it. With Azure, this is accomplished thru configuration parameters as well as Azure Scalability API's.

Measurement - The cloud provides a pay-for-service model similar to utility providers. In contrast to traditional service providers where you pay a flat fee for the month, and there is no discount offered for periods of low usage - cloud computing charges you only for the resources that you use. If your business typically experiences slow periods, you can either scale back your cloud resources or turn them off altogether.

Cloud processes 4 years of work in a mere 9 hours!

One of the most famous uses of cloud computing was Washington Post engineer Peter Harkins’ project. In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the White House provided a detailed account of then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s daily activities from 1993-2001. The public was eager to research this data, but it was provided as 17,481 pages of a non-searchable PDF document. Harkins wanted to convert this to searchable text for the paper’s editors. The first attempt Harkins took involved OCR and PDF tools that would scan, reformat, and resize each page into searchable text. Estimates for this work were around 30 minutes per page. With 17,481 pages to process, the time required to complete this would have been over 4 years. Instead, using 200 Amazon EC2 cloud instances and a variation of the Hadoop algorithm, the processing time was cut to 60 seconds per page. Within 9 hours the entire archive was broken down into searchable text which was then sent to the editors to research. Total computing cost of the project: $144.62.

Now is the time to get into this technology.

Cloud computing is OSSM, and it is here to stay. While many people may have many different answers to ‘what is the cloud’, most will agree the technology isn’t going away. All the major IT players have made cloud investments totaling into the billions of dollars. Now is the time to get into the ground floor of the upcoming cloud opportunities. Does your organization have any plans around cloud technologies? If not, it’s a safe bet that they will soon!