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Higgins
06-23-2009, 06:57 PM
Can you guys get to this article? What do you think?

http://www.bio-itworld.com/comment/2009/06/22/cloud-storage.html

WriteKnight
06-23-2009, 07:32 PM
Meh. "Cloud" is the new buzzword. It does seem the logical extension of utilizing the www. Already being done in some scientific applications and as they point out - already available to the average joe in terms of rental storage facilities.

The average person won't see much use for it. People needing HUGE networks for computing, storage (or in filmmaking -RENDERING) will see it as a big deal.

This is the point at which SciFi writers, talk about 'the web' attaining 'Cognitive Abilities' - if everything really is connected, and really talking to everything else... then sooner or later 'Artificial INtelligence' will arise from it. Can't remember the movie that first proposed this - one word title - back in the Seventies, but it was pretty groundbreaking at the time.

Dommo
06-24-2009, 08:48 AM
I agree with writeknight. The big benefit of cloud computing is the ability to tap some seriously massive computational horsepower. This is a big deal to us folks in the science/engineering industries, as a lot of the stuff we do(for example finite element analysis), is EXTREMELY computationally intensive. Being able to utilize a metric assload of cheap machines(like the protein folding projects for example), is definitely driving a lot of discoveries.

Williebee
06-24-2009, 08:56 AM
The big benefit of cloud computing is the ability to tap some seriously massive computational horsepower.

That's one benefit. Another is availability. As long as you have access to the web, you have access to your "office". And the portable machine that you are on can be less "powerful", with a longer battery life, because all the heavy processing is happening "in the browser" -- meaning somewhere outside the machine itself.

That also means that that portable machine can cost less.

Cloud computing also means a greater ability to share information and collaborate faster, and with more people.

Dommo
06-24-2009, 11:16 AM
I should have rephrased. "Be able to tap massive computational horsepower, from almost anywhere".

For example an Finite elements analysis simulation for a small machine part, isn't that large, perhaps on the order of like a hundred megabytes. Being able to upload that file into a supercomputing cluster for rent, could be a godsend. What might have taken hours or even days for larger parts/assemblies, might only take a few minutes.

painkillers
07-10-2009, 08:29 AM
I'm new here and I am not a scientist, but Microsoft seem to be trying to sell cloud computing to the masses. Why would anybody put all their documents, all their applications, everything, in the cloud? If the connection goes down you're...er...ah...expletive avoided, if they decide to charge you over the odds for access you're expletive avoided, if some friendly neighbourhood hacker decides he don't like you you're expletive avoided.
Or am I missing something here?

benbradley
07-10-2009, 09:04 AM
I'm new here and I am not a scientist, but Microsoft seem to be trying to sell cloud computing to the masses. Why would anybody put all their documents, all their applications, everything, in the cloud?
It has its advantages. You don't even need a computer. You can go to any cyber cafe or library with Internet access and log in, and access your own files and use these tools.


If the connection goes down you're...er...ah...expletive avoided, if they decide to charge you over the odds for access you're expletive avoided, if some friendly neighbourhood hacker decides he don't like you you're expletive avoided.
Or am I missing something here?
No, you're not missing anything, all these are real possibilities. The article also mentioned Google Docs, and there's surely several other smaller companies offering such services and trying to be the "next big thing." But yes, I surely wouldn't use such a service unless I could also save the files to my own computer in a popular format, preferrably an open format. That way I could still access and edit the documents without having to be online. There's the problem of syncing (updating either the cloud or the local version of files to the latest), but that's minor and can be automatically done.

But also, the word "cloud computing" seems to be used to cover a lot of things. I don't know that Google Docs is "cloud computing" other than Google has so many users it has to use lots of server machines to handle them all. It's an "over-the-web" service, much like the AW Water Cooler here, but this place is small enough to (as far as I know) only need one server.

And yes, as others have mentioned, hugely math-intensive applications aided greatly by this so-called "cloud computing" - years and decades ago a program that ran several parts on several computers was called "distributed processing." One of the oldest such on the Web is the Gimps prime search project:
http://www.mersenne.org/
The "Folding@home" and SETI projects have also been around for years and years.

And then there's the illegal "cloud computing", the thousands of zombie computers on the Internet, infected with a virus that runs in the background and controls computers without the owners knowing. These are usually used to send spam and to do distributed denial-of-service attacks such as happened to government computers over the July 4 weekend. They can also be used to store anything - ANYTHING - (think kiddie porn, on YOUR computer, and you have no idea it's there), which should be more than enough to prompt people to do a current virus scans to make sure their computer isn't a part of that.

painkillers
07-10-2009, 05:26 PM
Thanks, now I had better read those articles (in my defence it was something 4 am here when i posted and that aspect of cloud computing has always bothered me) btw if bot nets go cloud i.e. start using cloud mechanics to break public key codes etc, would they be called super-cells. Thanks again.

motormind
08-06-2009, 10:38 AM
No, you're not missing anything, all these are real possibilities. The article also mentioned Google Docs, and there's surely several other smaller companies offering such services and trying to be the "next big thing." But yes, I surely wouldn't use such a service unless I could also save the files to my own computer in a popular format, preferrably an open format. That way I could still access and edit the documents without having to be online.


You can install Gears, which lets you edit Google Docs documents in your browser while you are offline. It then syncs the files once you reconnect. I tried that and it works fine. You can also download your documents in a number of formats (one of them being Word). And in the end you can still copy-paste the text into any text editor of your liking.



But also, the word "cloud computing" seems to be used to cover a lot of things. I don't know that Google Docs is "cloud computing" other than Google has so many users it has to use lots of server machines to handle them all.


Indeed, it's not cloud computing in and of itself, although it likely uses those capabilities in the background

geardrops
08-06-2009, 10:25 PM
There are plusses and minuses to cloud computing, and while I think it's a great thing for science, I think pushing it on consumers is a little premature. We need to see how this tech develops and matures, and what it means for individual information security as well as privacy.

BigWords
08-08-2009, 01:33 AM
Despite not being able to find the original documents online, I was pretty sure that this type of thing was being done years ago, with idle computers adding to the processing power of (I think) an astronomy research program. Late 90's perhaps.

WriteKnight
08-09-2009, 07:56 PM
Okay, the book was "Colossus" - released as a film "Colossus: The Forbin Project" - back in 1970. So yeah, it's not like the concept is new. Just the marketing.

quixote100104
08-10-2009, 11:28 AM
Despite not being able to find the original documents online, I was pretty sure that this type of thing was being done years ago, with idle computers adding to the processing power of (I think) an astronomy research program. Late 90's perhaps.
Sounds like SETI at Home (http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/)

benbradley
08-10-2009, 07:36 PM
Despite not being able to find the original documents online, I was pretty sure that this type of thing was being done years ago, with idle computers adding to the processing power of (I think) an astronomy research program. Late 90's perhaps.


Sounds like SETI at Home (http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/)
There's also GIMPS (http://www.mersenne.org/) (not to be confused with Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/)the free Photoshop-like graphics/photo editing program) which finds huge prime numbers. These are a different kind of distributed computing where users install programs that use otherwise-unused CPU time on their own computers to solve "large" problems that can't reasonably be solved without the power of a large number of computers.

Cloud computing is a more recent term, where users use services that run on several servers ("the cloud") owned by an entity providing a service.

There appears to be lots of confusing and overlapping terms involving distributed computing. Gimps and SETI at Home are examples of Grid Computing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_computing

Whereas Google Docs is an example of cloud computing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing

Nivarion
08-11-2009, 08:08 AM
I would be really irked if Microsoft were trying to push a "Cloud Computing" thing on people where their files were stored in some Microsoft server. They can't keep my stuff safe on my computer which I'm the only one with access to, How are they going to keep stuff safe on a mega server?

And I heard about a bunch of college students doing this with Linux and a truck load of pentium 3's some years ago.

Williebee
08-11-2009, 08:11 AM
And I heard about a bunch of college students doing this with Linux and a truck load of pentium 3's some years ago.

Yup. That and the LTSP (linux terminal server project)

We rolled solutions like that out to a number of rural schools that couldn't afford the MS licensing model.

Nivarion
08-12-2009, 04:29 AM
Yup. That and the LTSP (linux terminal server project)

We rolled solutions like that out to a number of rural schools that couldn't afford the MS licensing model.

My school had the Microsoft license model. Sometimes it would take half the class to log into the schools computers.

We had productivity issues.

Ruv Draba
08-15-2009, 11:17 AM
It's new marketing on old science, coupled with a piece of Friedmanian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman) zealotry. Computing as a commodity. All that unused disk-space and CPU capacity going to waste. So let's use it!

Massively parallel computation was very big in the late 80s because of the dwindling production costs of PC components. Why build a highly specialised supercomputer for millions when you could connect thousands of inexpensive PC-like chips costing hundreds of dollars? All you needed was an operating system that would work across multiple CPUs, some way to share and manage memory, and some clever way to split instructions among CPUs.

This sort of thinking underpinned the business of companies like Thinking Machines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_Machines). This particular architecture has benefits in cracking certain kinds of physical problems, but it's a niche architecture with a limited market.

Cloud Computing is essentially massively parallel computation using faster Internet speeds to communicate between computers instead of between processors on the same computer. This is coupled with Software, Platforms and Infrastructure provided as services (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) either directly or through third-party providers -- though these services can all be provided independently of Cloud Computing. As I see it there are a few potential benefits, but they're niche and I think often outweighed by the costs...

Potential Benefits:

Software as a Service (SaaS) can potentially reduce software maintenance and administration costs by reducing the effort to install updates -- but you don't actually need Cloud Computing to deliver SaaS;
SaaS can potentially increase business agility by offer modular software components -- but again, you don't need Cloud Computing to deliver that;
PaaS, IaaS can potentially reduce downtime by offering low-cost fail-over arrangements -- but IaaS has been around for 20 years, and PaaS has been delivered through outsourced bureau arrangements for 15. All Cloud Computing does is commoditise these services.
PaaS potentially reduces network bandwidth by shortening communication distances, but it's not a Cloud Computing benefit.
SaaS/PaaS offer some speed benefits to mobile users because they allow services to be delivered from local servers -- reducing network latency. You don't need Cloud Computing to provide these services though.
The massive parallelism of Cloud Computing offers some benefits on niche computing problems -- similar problems to the ones that used to be tackled by Thinking Machines, say. They're niche problems though. Not the sort that you have when you're banking, talking on Skype, downloading a movie or playing World of Warcraft.
Potential costs:
Everyone investing in the Cloud wants to make a profit, yet Cloud doesn't offer any more services -- just the same services differently. So ask yourself: if you buy it will you be buying a) more services or b) paying more for the same service, or c) paying the same for suppliers to deliver it cheaper? My answer: it's b) and c).

Most of the problems below relate to higher service costs or lower quality of service.

Third party hosting of your software will increase the transactional costs of computation, not decrease them -- just as paying by credit-card increases the cost of goods and services;
The administrative benefits of SaaS require investment in more infrastructure. Thus the cost of hosting software increases, but SaaS lets you spread payments more evenly by converting capital costs into variable costs.
SaaS transactional throughput per machine is slower due to higher latency from software loads, encryption and handshake protocols;
Distributed transactional processing -- where you get multiple computers to collaborate on making something happen -- is generally done badly in the software industry, and Cloud Computing requires much more of it. Look for higher bug-rates, more failed transactions and more data integrity problems (which to you and me means more problems with your bank balance and lost manuscripts);
More layers of software management create more layers of security problems. Physical protection of servers remains one of the most critical elements in providing data security;
To scale and mobilise properly, Cloud Computing leans heavily on encryption so that data can be hosted by third-party providers. But encryption is only good for around 10 years or so before it's cracked. Which means that your permanent private information (e.g. social security numbers, bank account details, commercil intellectual property) should never be processed by Cloud Computing;
Cloud Computing requires much higher bandwidths over-all, but arguably the most valuable use of higher bandwidth isn't to provide Cloud Computing but to serve richer content.
It's not clear to me that SaaS-over-PaaS has even begun considering the problems of configuration management and version control, much less addressed them. I can easily conceive situations where a mobile user can't get to their data because they can't find local hosts to run the right versions of their software.

A little Polemic about Commoditised ITC:
The core buzz behind Cloud Computing is the ability to commoditise Information Technology and Communications (ITC) capacity -- rent capacity rather than buy equipment. The more zealous evangelists see this as a wonderfully efficient way to make use of all the unused computing and storage capacity in the world.

There is indeed a tonne of unused capacity, but I'm not convinced that Cloud Computing will give us a better, fairer, Share and Enjoy world. Here's why...

When electricity became a commoditised utility, an electricity futures market developed. That wasn't a bad thing -- in fact it was probably a good thing -- until electricity supply became critical for hospitals and home-care and emergency services communications, and energy market fluctuations began threatening lives. With potable water now a valuable commodity it won't be long before someone starts trading water futures -- with all the social and environmental problems that will bring. We've learned to our cost that it's a bad idea to have a lassez-faire market for critical commodities -- because they're critical.

In a similar fashion, a global move to Cloud Computing would commoditise compute, storage and bandwidth, allowing futures trading in PaaS and IaaS. It's less critical than water futures but I don't really want to see PaaS and IaaS futures traded in an open market. Who wants business-critical ITC capacity to be hemmed by the strategic purchasing decisions of competitors? Who wants their transactional capacity to be taken down by a hedge-fund? Who wants their banking service browned out because China's in a snit? Or a video-on-demand release choked because ESPN has bought out any spare capacity to run the Superbowl? That's the stuff of cyberpunk dystopias. The problem is that once you move to commoditised ITC arrangements, businesses retool their financial planning around lower capital expenditure (capex) for ITC and that's irreversible. In a low ITC capex market, a business with high ITC capex can't compete. It's not that Cloud Computing is more efficient computing -- per application, it's not. Neither is it a more efficient use of funds. Rather, Cloud Computing is a more efficient use of credit. Look for the telcos to push Cloud Computing, and the banks to back them up. Look for credit-hungry businesses to chase Cloud Computing as a way to woo the banks: 'I don't have to spend the loan in buying ITC -- I can spend it in business growth'.

Banks won't care that a business doesn't own its ITC capacity -- they'll love the idea; but customers will care when their Quality of Service suddenly drops and their personal data keeps getting cracked in ways that they can no longer trace.

My view in conclusion:

For the average consumer, Cloud Computing is not the Next Big Thing, and for the average business it's a monster folly. Socially I'm not enamoured of it at all. I'd rather see businesses control their compute and storage just as I'd prefer to see local regions manage their own water supplies. We can't afford to commoditise and outsource critical resources too far.

For CIOs with mobile users on heterogeneous equipment who can't afford a lot of software administration, I can see SaaS-over-PaaS as being highly beneficial though. For little businesses with tight cash-flow, SaaS-over-PaaS has its attractions too.

From an Artificial Intelligence perspective I see no great benefit from Cloud Computing. It's not the stuff of science fiction -- it's science leftovers reheated.

We know from 40 years of bitter experience that our problem in delivering smarter computing lies with the searching methods far more than the machinery. It's just that the machinery improves much faster than the search methods, so every new generation of computing gives us another glimmer of fool's gold. Not only that, but every time we receive faster hardware, we write slower and less efficient software anyway. A lot of the benefit of faster hardware is sunk into reducing development costs by automating more software development.

If we want really smart, adaptive computing, one or both of two things has to happen:

An utter revolution in computation and memory -- e.g. biocomputing -- rather than the evolutionary improvements we've been seeing
Someone has to find really, really smart search, modelling, response and inference methods. The ones we have are fine for simulating small ant-nests, making challenging computer games, automating manufacture and inventory control in supermarkets, but inadequate for traffic management, flight-scheduling or stock-market predictions -- any of the seriously complex large-scale computations we need on a daily basis.