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About this Article
Written by: Paul Yoon
Written on: December 5th, 2008
Tags: computer science
Thumbnail by: Paul Yoon/Illumin
About the Author
In Fall 2008, Paul Yoon was an electrical engineering graduate student at the University of Southern California studying topics in power systems and signal processing. A native Angeleno, he enjoyed playing guitar with his band in his spare time.
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Volume X Issue IV > Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is the up-and-coming computing revolution that will change the way we access applications and data. With the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and web applications such as Google Apps, Facebook, and eyeOS, the running of applications and storing of data has begun to shift from the personal computer to “the cloud”. Cloud computing allows us to harness the power of the Internet to run applications and store data, paving the way for cheaper computers and the ability to access data from practically anywhere in the world.

What is Cloud Computing?

Even if you were not aware of it, you have probably already used cloud computing. If you have ever used Google Docs to share documents and spreadsheets with others or added a Facebook application to keep track of your class schedule, you have definitely been cloud computing. Cloud computing describes the method of computing in which users interact with web applications and services on remote servers through the Internet as opposed to local boxed software applications on their own computers. The term follows in the footsteps of the buzzword “Web 2.0,” coined to describe the recent emergence of dynamic websites that have enabled web surfers to experience web pages in an entirely new way. Web 2.0 does not refer to any specific technical update; rather, it describes the gradual change in the way users and web developers interact with websites. This new generation of websites embed multimedia such as videos and images, but most importantly, can be customized towards a user’s unique preferences and connect them to other user-generated content. For example, Yahoo! has a “My Yahoo!” page where Yahoo! users can add content that they want to see and arrange the content’s location on the page to their liking. Web 2.0 emphasizes the idea of using the Internet as a platform from which to run your own applications [1].
The strongest example of the movement towards Web 2.0 is the abundance of social networking sites that give users the ability to create their own presence on the Internet. Millions of Facebook users can attest to this as they spend an average of 19.5 minutes per session updating their own profiles, communicating with friends, viewing and uploading photos, or keeping track of upcoming events in their lives - all tasks done on a single website through a web browser [2]. Facebook alone does away with the need to install software applications such as instant messaging applications, photo organizing applications, or calendar applications. Though seemingly a simple concept, cloud computing completely changes how users interact with applications because it immerses one’s life on the Internet. Want to know how it all works? You’ll be surprised when you find out just how much engineering goes into forming these clouds.

Cloud Formations: A Little History on the Computing Experience

In the 1960s, computer users frequented time-sharing computer facilities that allowed users to interact through terminals connected to large mainframes via telephone lines for computing [3]. When users wanted to run an application or access their data, they would log on to the computer terminals, which granted users access to the applications and information stored on the mainframe. Since the terminals were literally connected to the mainframes through long cables, users were physically restricted from doing any of their computing outside of the time-share facility. All this changed in the 1980s with the rise of the era of personal computing. Users were freed from the ball and chain of computer terminals and their housing facilities as more and more users bought personal home computers with locally stored software applications and data.
Users today have full control of the software applications they purchase and the freedom to customize their computer to their liking. However, this freedom comes with downsides that become obvious when the casual computer user deals with incessant application updates and faces the financially daunting task of periodically upgrading their computers. Cloud computing gives these users some peace of mind in two ways: first, computers that solely utilize web applications require far less computing power and consequently will not need to be replaced or upgraded as often; second, web applications on the Internet are automatically maintained and upgraded by the software companies that create them. Furthermore, there is never any installing or uninstalling of applications in cloud computing because all one has to do to use a web application is simply visit the website where the application is hosted. Ironically, cloud computing brings users back to the old ways of terminal-mainframe computing by moving applications and the user’s data out of personal computers and back into a central “mainframe”. However, this time the “terminals” are far-reaching and extend to the user’s home while “mainframes” can be miles away serving millions of users, as shown in Fig. 1.
Paul Yoon/Illumin
Figure 1: The evolution of computing.