Cloud vs Distributed computing and the Social Customer aka the Global Citizen


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The past few weeks have been all about cloud computing. Be it the wikileaks and Amazon standoff or the Dreamforce 2010 event unveiling 7 ‘Clouds’. Lots have been talked about both. One is a political discussion, the other an enterprise discussion. And I got torn between the new patterns of behaviors arising around cloud. Let me explain a bit more so you help me out.

The promise of cloud computing is the abstraction of the unnderlying complexities of the technology from the users, and their plug & play as well as on demand supply – much like electricity.

For businesses, now they can have IT as an operational expenditure rather than capital. Thus the plethora of XYZ as a Service. Purists would like to make a distinction between Infrastructure, Platform and Software as a Service. Now add the new & upcoming Business Process as a Service to the hype.

Another confusion to all this is public vs private cloud. Some say Private cloud is merely glorified data center server racks, some say its bullshit.

All said and done, cloud is about consolidating your computing stacks & sharing it with various users for their computational tasks.

Distributed computing, for me, is the exact opposite. Take a huge computational task, break it into various mini/micro/nano tasks and distribute them across various systems. Like the SETI@Home program which lets u donate some of your computers’ idle time in the hopes of finding aliens so that you have enough time to reach out for a towel.

Aspects like reliability, scalability, redundancy, security, etc. are built into cloud computing, but it is a single point of failure for your business irrespective of all the redundancy & reliability built into the cloud. This was what happened when Amazon pulled the plug for Wikileaks quoting violation of its terms & conditions. Quoting The Guardian:

“It’s clear,” pontificated Amazon, “that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy.”

To which they also say bunkum:

… any work “prepared by an officer or employee of the US government as part of that person’s official duties” is not entitled to domestic copyright protection under US law. So, in the US at least, the leaked cables are not protected by copyright and it doesn’t matter whether WikiLeaks owns the rights or not.

Irrespective of the politics involved, here is a balanced view from the crusader against IT #FAIL, and a good friend, Michael Krigsman:

Cloud computing suffers from the weakness of central point of failure. For example, when a cloud owner, such as a particular vendor, suffers an outage all customers could potentially go down. In contrast, distributing Internet-based data among numerous outlets creates redundancy and lowers the risk of catastrophic disruption.

Regardless of one’s political view of Wikileaks, for instance, the organization brilliantly anticipated service disruptions caused by political pressure. As a result, they distributed their materials on servers owned by different companies throughout the world. When Wikileak’s storage provider, Amazon, pulled the plug, data mirrored elsewhere kept the site accessible.

Cloud computing combined with distributed mirroring offers a robust means to share information on the Internet.

Star analyst & great friend Esteban Kolsky goes a step further wrt Cloud vs Distributed and changes my fundamentals. He opines that cloud & distributed computing are not much apart in real life. He explains that cloud was built to leverage distributed computing and says that there is not just a single point of failure in a cloud but also not a single provider. Stuff at all the layers of the cloud would be interchangeable & inter-operable. (Amen!) And thus:

without going into the politics of it, the ability of wikileaks to continue to flourish after being officially “shut down” in their main place proves the value of the cloud as a continuously growing and evolving platform where content and applications can live forever.

Internet is a great platform that enables both cloud & distributed computing. All said & done, Internet is a tool. From an anthropology view, apparently,tools came before bigger brains in the human evolution. And internet is a very BIG tool that is changing human behavior. The rise of the social customer is one manifestation. The global citizen is yet another aspect of this social customer. May be it will pave way for the fall of the nations? Sorry, let me not start gathering wool.

But for the internet to become more useful, it will have to evolve a lot more, in terms of how we consume it. There might be some parallels with how electricity was adopted at a time when steam, wind or water were the major sources of energy. How the power generation was centralized and the distribution grids were built. How various providers had to inter-operate & were interchangeable too.

And then people could also generate power at home using solar/wind/bio/etc. and get credits for that. Which would be something like me providing my extra/idle CPU & storage space to the cloud providers and thus getting extra credits. Now that would be a true innovation in cloud & distributed computing, isn’t it? More power & flexibility to the social customer aka the global citizen.

A lot of things to wrap my thoughts around and too early stages to say how the human behavior is evolving wrt cloud & distributed computing. Whats your say?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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