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Internet Related/Filtering/Firewall Thread, What Is the Cloud??? in Technical; Right, I just have to ask, what is 'The Cloud'. Everyone is offering solutions from it and saying that it ...
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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Question What Is the Cloud???

    Right, I just have to ask, what is 'The Cloud'. Everyone is offering solutions from it and saying that it is the one true path of the future. I just want to know if anyone actually has a clear definition of what it actually is?

    Is it an active website?
    An active webapp?
    A series of web services?
    A social networking site?

    With everyone so sure about it and/or indeed advertising that they can provide it, a definition of what people actually beleive it to be would be nice as for the moment its true nature seems to be as hazey and noncorporial as its namesake.

    Is the cloud just a website, just 'web 3.0' or just another marketing term with no real fixed meaning used by people trying to shovel the same old stuff down your gullet - Software as a Service anyone?

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    danbuntu's Avatar
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    it can mean various things. but the simplest definition is if you think of a traditionally networking map you'd have a cloud symbol on it representing the internet.
    And basically that's the cloud. If it's in the internet then it's a cloud service.

    the slightly more complicated expalination is hosted cloud services. The bast way think about these is to think if i had an operating system with only a web browser and no internal storage on it could I use it? So the google apps/ office 365 cloud offering for example means that all documents are stores 'in the cloud' and can be edited and created via a web interface.

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    Little-Miss (10th April 2011), SimpleSi (10th April 2011), SYNACK (10th April 2011)

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Cool, my exchange server is accessable via the internet and the web browser so techically that is in the cloud and has been for the last five plus years
    Last edited by SYNACK; 10th April 2011 at 08:20 AM.

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    The cloud is a nebulous marketing term which essentially means something is hosted on a virtual platform (usually) with high levels of scalability and redundancy. Often, with traditional 'cloud' computing the scalability goes to the level of buying hours on a system rather than renting a server, similar to the old mainframe methods.

    Of course, the term gets thrown around so much it is essentially meaningless. Your exchange server is probably not in the cloud as it is, I imagine, hosted in a static resource. Unless of course you've got your own private cloud, which doesn't have to be accessible via the internet at all.

    The safest thing is, if someone starts babbling excitedly about this or that cloud product, simply let them rant, calm them down, and make sure they get back to the home safely. Alternatively tranquilisers can help.

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    SYNACK (10th April 2011)

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    @jamesb - thanks, that more cloesly mirrors my understanding of it. I totally agree with your assertion that the term is largely meaningless now with various organisations claiming their new cloud solutions stored on one or two server in a single datacentre with no secondary power source or secondary and tertiary internet links let alone a secondary site.

    Without a true definition it can't help but be abused by vendors, technology media and amatures alike.
    Last edited by SYNACK; 10th April 2011 at 08:56 AM.

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    danbuntu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SYNACK View Post
    a single datacentre with no secondary power source or secondary and tertiary internet links let alone a secondary site.
    That would be a pretty poor datacenter. All datacenters will have backup power generators and secondary internet. Likewise they won't be running on one server but will be running virtual machines across multiple physical servers. the larger providers will then also virtualise across multiple datacenteres. This is why google now have an SLA that promises 100% uptime now, not the normal 99.9%.

    This is also why your one exchange server doesn't really count.

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    Pretty much all technical terms can be abused by vendors and marketing people :-)

    Your single exchange server is definitely not in the cloud because there's only one - I'd say a key feature of cloud systems is that there are multiple servers providing any service. As@danbuntu says, this allows for redundancy and gives the possibility of the magical 100% uptime figure.

    I'm sure that some companies will offer "cloud hosting" or whatever marketing term is popular today to mean nothing more than putting your services in their datacentre - it's kind of in the cloud (it's not in your datacentre and it's on the internet) but it doesn't give the sort of benefit you would want.

    Proper cloud stuff ought to mean that you connect to the resource via the internet and you don't have to worry about where it is or what specific machine it's hosted on - their infrastructure will take care of shifting stuff around so that you continue to get availability.

    Of course the vagueness of the cloud can lead to problems - if you care about where your data is stored then you might not want it hosting on servers in a particular country - in the EU, for example, you probably want to make sure that your data stays in the EU and doesn't get migrated to the US just because there's spare capacity on their systems.

    There's a bit about this here Microsoft « Digital Agenda Commissioner – Neelie Kroes - I'm sure Microsoft now have a service for EU countries which guarantees that data stays in the EU (but, sadly, I can't find it today)

    Anyway, there are no clouds today, the sun is shining so it's time to switch off the computers and go outside :-)

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    I thought this article explained it quite well...

    Like the grid, the cloud is a utility computing model that involves a dynamically growing and shrinking collection of heterogenous, loosely coupled nodes, all of which are aggregated together and present themselves to a client as a single pool of compute and/or storage resources. But though the server side of the model may look similar, most the major differences between cloud and grid stem from the differences between their respective clients.

    Instead of a few clients running massive, multinode jobs, the cloud services thousands or millions of clients, typically serving multiple clients per node. These clients have small, fleeting tasks—e.g., database queries or HTTP requests—that are often computationally very lightweight but possibly storage- or bandwidth-intensive.

    Another difference between the cloud and the grid is that the grids are biased toward serving compute cycles, while clouds typically offer more in the way of storage than cycles. Indeed, most grids would be very ill-suited to cloud workloads like Web serving, and most clouds would fall far short of grid clients' massive compute needs.

    Because of the nature of their respective client profiles, clouds and grids also have different ownership characteristics. I noted above that grids tend to be multi-institutional, where institutions and/or individuals all contribute hardware resources that are then shared by other contributors. A cloud, in contrast, is always owned by one institution, regardless of whether use of the cloud is open to clients outside that institution or not (i.e., whether the cloud is public, private, or hybrid). (Source)
    As in the real world, there are different types of clouds too...

    Cloud services are offered at three basic levels, or tiers, that are distinguished by the level of abstraction that each presents to the client. These tiers roughly map to the three layers of the standard hardware/OS/applications stack familiar to anyone who uses a PC.

    The lowest cloud tier is infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which looks to the client like a dynamically scalable pool of compute and/or storage resources. The basic metered unit of IaaS is usually either a single virtual machine (e.g., Amazon EC2) or an abstract storage object of a certain size (e.g., Amazon S3).

    Next up the ladder of abstraction is platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which provides API-level access to a cloud infrastructure layer. Examples of PaaS are Google AppEngine and Force.com. Because PaaS offerings often come wrapped in a vendor-specific API, the use of this layer pretty much locks you into a particular vendor. It's at this tier that enterprise customers must take seriously the risk/reward tradeoff between the convenience and agility afforded by a vendor's cloud offering and the potential inconvenience of being unable to easily move away from that vendor's platform should business or technical considerations demand it.

    The final and most popular tier of cloud service is software-as-a-service (SaaS). Google Apps and Salesforce.com are the two paradigmatic SaaS examples, and they're so ubiquitous that not much more needs to be said about this cloud tier. (Source)

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    Quote Originally Posted by SYNACK View Post
    what is 'The Cloud'
    That's easy: a computing cloud is a bunch of computers that don't rely on having known network IDs or fixed backing storage to carry out their functions, i.e. upon startup (or, generally, instantiation as a virtual machine) a cloud member has to figure out its network address/name and go and find a chunk of disk space to use. The difference between "a cloud" and "the Cloud" is much the same as between "an internet" and "the Internet" - the Internet is a global IP-based network, an internet is merely a private version of this. As yet, we don't have a global Cloud based on an open protocol that anyone can attach computing resources to, just a bunch of private cloud implementations based on various protocols.

    The technologies and terminology used to implement the average computing cloud service have gotten jumbled up into a confused mush in lots of people's minds, with the confusion encouraged by salespeople eager to sell equipment and services. Hence you'll find people in smaller organisations like schools convinced that they need to be able to strongly dissasociate their backing storage from their processing capability and wasting money on SAN hardware, convinced that they are "doing Cloud".

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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    wasting money on SAN hardware
    Another problem with SANs in schools is that they typically only have one of them due to the cost which then creates a SPOF.

    I really like GridStore's approach where you have a single pool of storage distributed amongst multiple nodes (each of which costs around £360 for 2TB). By adding extra nodes you can increase the overall speed (because each node does less and less work) and survive more disk failures.

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    I have done a blog post on "To the Cloud with Microsoft" To The Cloud with Microsoft! « (James Evans) EduTech's Blog

    Which is basically just showing what Microsoft are covering at the moment in regards to cloud based services.

    The "Private Cloud" is basically having services housed in a Data Center oppose to being Internal to your Organization. To be fair in regards to schools I don't think this is the way forward and the services should stay internal.. things like E-Mail Services could be placed in the cloud but oppose to "Files" etc. I think it would be pretty difficult to do this especially with the amount of DATA that tends to be held on a school network.

    James.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EduTech View Post
    I think it would be pretty difficult to do this especially with the amount of DATA that tends to be held on a school network.
    I'd change that to "difficult to do this at the moment" - one thing stopping it being practical is the lack of secure, high speed bandwidth into schools. Fix that and moving the data out of the school becomes more feasible (In real terms, schools have tiny amounts of data!)

    Just as an example, we have dual 10Gbit/s links to the internet; brought into different parts of London and then routed via private circuits so that we can survive someone digging up the road. I'd guess schools now are where universities were about 10-20 years ago. You still might not move file storage out of the school but it could become possible once schools have (say) dual gigabit links. You then just pay someone else to manage the storage. Would it be better value than doing it yourself? No idea :-) but it could be - you should get economies of scale in managing all of it. Will you get a better service than doing it yourself? Again, no idea but that would certainly be something to check very carefully.

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srochford View Post
    Just as an example, we have dual 10Gbit/s links to the internet; brought into different parts of London and then routed via private circuits so that we can survive someone digging up the road. I'd guess schools now are where universities were about 10-20 years ago.
    Wow, ok you are about 100 years in the future from my point of view in NZ, if its not to do with milking cows the government here does not care. We are looking at probably 10mbit, max 100mbit within about 10 years so you may as well be wearing a Starfleet uniform and be quoting the prime directive at this point. Even so the clueless goldfish that run the the tech side of the education sector are desperate to cram the cloud down the throats of any schools they can, 2mb/1mb pipes or not.
    Last edited by SYNACK; 10th April 2011 at 05:56 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EduTech View Post
    I have done a blog post on "To the Cloud with Microsoft" To The Cloud with Microsoft!.
    Great blog, James. This slide from last months WSUG does a good job of explaining the different service models I thought.


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    The cloud is an evil entity taking away the control I have over the services that my colleagues need to function. Whilst I do get to finger point if something goes wrong, it is also the bane of my life contacting "cloud support", having to go through first line then second line whilst said colleagues stand over my shoulder complaining that the downtime is impacting their commission, or that their blackberry has stopped receiving their emails due to something in "the cloud" breaking their connection to BES.

    This was said slightly in jest, but mostly while trying not to cry.

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