What is the Cloud?

In case you didn’t know, Forbes is running a series on cloud computing.  In one of the articles, Apple founder Steve “the Woz” Wozniak partly defines cloud computing like this:  “The cloud’s a vague term even to me.  It can mean different things to different people.

“You don’t know where it is.  Cloud computing is a specific hardware organization where resources can be assigned remotely and switched around easily and used more effectively.  It saves a lot of physical labor, moving things around and lets people change their minds easily….” 1

Let’s get specific

In this article, I’d like to demystify the Cloud and let you see what’s inside this “vaporous mist.”

It’s like Legos

If you’ve ever played with Legos, you know that you build structures by “clicking” elements together.  You also know that you can dismantle structures by “un-clicking” elements.  In the case of cloud computing, it has to do with being able to separate operating systems and applications from physical pieces of hardware like servers in order to easily move the former around.

The reason for keeping hardware and software separate (via virtualization software, a component of cloud computing) is to be able to easily move operating systems and applications in the case of hardware failures. 2  Doing so enables systems to continue running and users to continue working, as if a crash hadn’t happened.

No longer dumb, but thin

In the old days, one mainframe used to be connected to several dumb terminals.  The mainframe allocated a certain amount of computing power to each dumb terminal and users were happy as long as things worked.  If the mainframe crashed, though, everything stopped.  If a company had, for example, an internal e-mail service, a mainframe failure represented a stoppage of the e-mail service. 3

Today, in cloud computing, instead of individual mainframes and dumb terminals, we have Terminal Services Servers (TSSs) and thin clients (hardware or software).  Virtual computing, which is a component of cloud computing, allows for the easy migration of operating systems and applications to different pieces of hardware. 4

Web applications

In cloud computing, using web applications means that you are using applications that reside on servers that don’t belong to you, that are outside of your computing environment.  If you open a web application,  it means that although a window will appear via your browser displaying the application you’re familiar with on a screen that resembles your desktop environment, the application, in fact, resides on a server external to your environment.  You did not purchase the application and you don’t have to worry about repairing or replacing it if it fails; you’re simply using the application as if it were located on your laptop.  This means that should your laptop crash, none of your work will be lost.  You can just get up, move to a different laptop or computer, log in and continue where you left off. 5

Clustering, replication and load balancing

In the Cloud, you can (using virtualization software) group multiple servers with identical databases together in clusters.  Data replication means that when Internet traffic increases to a server in a particular cluster, so much so that it risks breaking down said physical server, instead of crashing (with user services being interrupted), traffic will be redirected (i.e., the load will be balanced) to another server in the cluster.

If this, second, server comes close to being overloaded, traffic will be redirected to a third server in the cluster.  This process is repeated allowing users to continue working seamlessly without interruption of services due to hardware crashes.

It’s not what you think or where you think

One of the key concepts to grasp regarding the Cloud is that what you’re using doesn’t reside where you think it does; nor is it what it looks like.  This is because although what appears on your screen may look like your desktop, it isn’t your desktop; and the application that seems to be so close actually belongs to someone else and resides thousands of miles away!  You never purchased the application nor did you install it on your machine. 6  This means that instead of taking twenty-four hours to recover from a hardware crash, it can take only one hour.  This represents a great saving of time and effort.

Easy migration

In virtualization (client installed or using Hypervisor along with ESXI) the operating system “sits above the hardware” and, “using copy and paste,” you can move it to a new piece of hardware when needed.

(End of Part I)


Untitled, by Luba Rascheff


1 Orosco, Cesar. “Steve Wozniak: Apple, Cloud, Flash, Luck And Open Doors.” Forbes. Published on April 15, 2013. Accessed on August 21, 2013.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/netapp/2013/04/15/steve-wozniak-interview/

2 elithecomputerguy. “Everyman IT, Introduction to Cloud Computing.”  Everyman IT. Published on December 17, 2010 on Youtube.  Accessed on August 21, 2013.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYzJl0Zrc4M

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

WHAT IS THE CLOUD? PART I Copyright © 2013 Luba Rascheff