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Cloud computing and the limitless sky

by Andrew Scott

I was sat at home a few weeks ago, happily watching some on-demand television, when my flatmate returned home from a weekend away. He hurriedly made his way to join me, collecting his laptop en-route. In excited tones he said “I have some witchcraft to show you!”

He went on to show me a new app that enabled him to play a huge selection of games right there, on his not too powerful laptop. He didn’t have to install the games, he didn’t even have to download the games, he just had to install one app called Onlive and away he went, just like the on demand television I had just been enjoying.

What freaky, but wondrous magic was this? The answer is, THE CLOUD.

You may have heard talk of ‘the cloud’ over the last few weeks, months, even years, but what is this cloud and what will it mean for all of us?

The cloud isn’t new; you’ve been using it for your emails for years. Quite simply the cloud is the name given to storage and processing power that is accessed remotely. In the past, even if you had an internet connection, most of the work you were doing on your computer was being stored and processed within the little box next to you, but with the advent of faster broadband connections our little desktops, laptops and tablets have been liberated from this toil. Now vast and powerful supercomputers, in some far off land, can do all the hard work and all our little computers need to do is display the results.

Another way to understand the cloud is to think about power generation. In the early 20th century many factories had to generate their own power, but once the technological barriers for energy transmission had been overcome factories simply joined the grid and left the dirty work of power generation to the utilities companies.

Much the same thing is happening in the world of computing, computing power can now be reliably transmitted as a utility, freeing companies from the unrewarding and expensive exercise of running their own servers and computers. Welcome to the Grid 2.0.

The new opportunities that this allows for have as yet barely been tapped into, the sky is the limit.

Think about my flatmate, once upon a time playing computer games was an expensive pursuit, requiring constant upgrades of graphics cards, RAM and processors in an attempt to keep up with the lofty ambitions of game developers. Now all he needs, to play the latest games with the best graphics, is a fast internet connection and a good monitor. This is good news for him, but it’s also good news for game developers too.

Game developers have often been held back by having to create games that will run on the average home computer or games console. There is no point in making a great game that only someone with access to CERN laboratories can play. That restriction has now been lifted, the glass ceiling has been smashed and it will be exciting to see what the future holds.

It’s also great news for business, until recently if you wanted more computing power you’d have to spend a lot of time and money upgrading your system, possibly hiring new staff and the results can take a long time to be realised. Now all they will have to do is rent more processing power, allowing companies to grow in real time as they need to, or conversely shrink when required.

There are also great opportunities for education and scientific research. Basically at some point in the future due to the cloud, this grid 2.0, we will all be able to run supercomputers on very simple hardware through the TV’s in our very own sitting rooms.

Are you as excited about the possibilities of cloud computing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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