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That will fuel the demand for cloud computing even more. Photo: Mobile cloud: The shift to mobile devices and the growth of cloud computing are mutually reinforcing trends. Mobile devices are much more useful thanks to cloud-based apps like these, provided by Google. In other words, one reason for buying a mobile is because of the extra cloud-based things you can do with it. But these services are also thriving because they have ever-increasing numbers of users, many of them on smartphones.

How significant is the shift to mobile?

By any measurement, phenomenal and dramatic. Bearing in mind that there was only one functioning mobile phone in when Martin Cooper made the first cellphone call, it's staggering to find that there are now an estimated 8 billion mobile subscriptions more than one for every person on the planet. By , Goldman Sachs was telling us that 66 percent of Net-connected devices were mobiles, compared to just 29 percent desktops.

Principles and Practice

In , Google began indexing the smartphone versions of websites in preference to the desktop versions with its new, so-called mobile-first index. Cloud computing makes it possible for cellphones to be smartphones and for tablets to do the sorts of things that we used to do on desktops, but it also encourages us to do more things with those devices—and so on, in a virtuous circle. For example, if you buy a smartphone, you don't simply do things on your phone that you used to do on your PC: you spend more time online overall, using apps and services that you previously wouldn't have used at all.

Cloud computing made mobile devices feasible, so people bought them in large numbers, driving the development of more mobile apps and better mobile devices, and so on. Stare high to the sky and you can watch clouds drift by or, if you're more scientific and nuanced, start to tease out the differences between cumulus, cirrus, and stratus. In much the same way, computing aficionados draw a distinction between different types of cloud.

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Public clouds are provided by people such as Amazon, Google, and IBM: in theory, all users share space and time on the same cloud and access it the same way. Many companies, for example, use Gmail to power their Internet mail and share documents using Google Drive—in pretty much the same way that you or I might do so as individuals. Private clouds work technically the same way but service a single company and are either managed exclusively by that company or by one of the big cloud providers on their behalf. They're fully integrated with the company's existing networks, Intranet, databases, and infrastructure, and span countries or continents in much the same way.

Increasingly, companies find neither of these bald alternatives quite fits the bill—they need elements of each—so they opt for hybrid clouds that combine the best of both worlds, hooking up their existing IT infrastructure to a public cloud system provided by someone like Amazon or Google. Other trends to watch include the development of personal clouds , where you configure your own home network to work like a mini-cloud so, for example, all your mobile devices can store and access files seamlessly , and peer-to-peer cloud computing , in which the dynamic, scalable power of a cloud computing system is provided not by giant data centers but by many individual, geographically dispersed computers arriving on the network, temporarily contributing to it, and then leaving again as already happens with collaborative science projects like SETI home and ClimatePrediction.

Security has always been an obvious concern for people who use cloud computing: if your data is remote and traveling back and forth over the Internet, what's to keep it safe? Perhaps surprisingly, many IT professionals think cloud-based systems are actually more secure than conventional ones.

Guide to cloud computing: principles and practice

If you're buying into Google's, Amazon's, or Microsoft's cloud-based services, you're also buying into world-class expertise at keeping data safe; could you—or your IT team—manage security as well? Security can therefore be seen as a compelling reason to migrate to cloud-based systems rather than a reason to avoid them. Privacy is a more nuanced and complex issue. While we all understand what we mean by keeping data secure, what do we mean by keeping it private in a world where users of cloud-based services like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat happily share anything and everything online?

One of the complications is so-called big data , the statistical "analytic" information that companies like Google and Facebook gather about the way we use their cloud-based services and other websites that use those services.


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Google, for example, collects huge amounts of data through its advertising platforms and no-one knows exactly what happens to it afterward. Facebook knows an enormous amount about what people say they "like," which means it can compile detailed profiles of all its users. And Twitter knows what you tweet, retweet, and favorite—so it has similar data to Facebook.

The quid-pro-quo for "free" web-based services and apps is that you pay for what you use with a loss of privacy, typically to power targeted advertisements. Another complication is that privacy means different things in different parts of the world. In Europe, for example, the European Union has strict restrictions on how data can be moved in bulk from one country to another or shared by companies like Google that have multiple subsidiaries operating across countries and continents.

While Internet-based cloud computing makes national boundaries obsolete, real-world laws still operate according to old-fashioned geography—and that could act as a serious brake on the aspirations of many big cloud providers. When it comes to the everyday web services we all enjoy, there may be different kinds of clouds on the horizon.


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As web-based advertising dwindles in effectiveness, one future concern must be how companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter will continue to fund their ever-growing, essentially cloud-based, services without using our data in increasingly dubious ways. Part of the reason for the huge growth in popularity of services like this is simply that they're free. Would Facebook be so popular if we had to pay for it through a monthly subscription?

Can advertising continue to sustain an ever-growing field of cloud-based services and apps as the number of Internet users and Net-connected devices continues to grow? Watch this space! In theory, cloud computing is environmentally friendly because it uses fewer resources servers, cooling systems, and all the rest and less energy if 10 people share an efficiently run, centralized, cloud-based system than if each of them run their own inefficient local system.

What is cloud computing?

One hosting provider in the UK told me that his company has embraced cloud systems because it means they can handle more customers on far fewer physical servers, with big savings in equipment, maintenance, and energy costs. Amazon AWS claims cloud computing is so efficient, comapred to using your own equipment, that it can achieve carbon emission savings of 88 percent.

In theory, cloud computing should be a big win for the environment; in practice, it's not quite so simple. Ironically, given the way we've defined cloud computing, it matters where your cloud servers are located and how they're powered. If they're in data centers powered by coal, instead of cleaner fuels such as natural gas or better still renewable energy, the overall environmental impact could be worse than your current setup. There's been a lot of debate about the energy use of huge data centers, partly thanks to Greenpeace highlighting the issue once a year since By , in a report called Clicking Clean , Greenpeace was congratulating around 20 of the biggest data center operators including Apple, Facebook, and Google for starting on the path toward percent renewable energy.

In the United States in particular, quite a few cloud and web hosting providers explicitly state whether their servers are powered by conventional or green energy, and it's relatively easy to find carbon-neutral service providers if that's an important factor for your business and its CSR corporate social responsibility objectives. Chart: Growth in energy use in data centers from onward. When it comes to overall impact on the planet, there's another issue to consider.

If cloud services simply move things you would do in your own office or home to the cloud, that's one thing; the environmental impact merely transfers elsewhere. But a lot of cloud- and Internet-based services are encouraging us to use more computers and gadgets like iPads and iPhones for longer, spending more time online, and doing more things that we didn't previously do at all.

In that sense, cloud computing is helping to increase global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions —so describing it as environmentally friendly is highly misleading. That was evident from a study by DatacenterDynamics DCD Intelligence, the British Computer Society, and partners reported in Computer Weekly , which showed that global energy use from data centers grew from 12 gigawatts GW in to 24GW in and predicted it would reach 43GW some time in Growing concerns about the impact of cloud computing have also prompted imaginative new solutions.

Later in , for example, researchers at Trinity College Dublin and IBM announced they'd found a way to reduce cloud emissions by over 20 percent by using smart load-balancing algorithms to spread out data processing between different data centers. In April , Google announced that it had successfully offset all its conventional electricity use through matched investments in renewable wind and solar energy. Amazon's AWS is lagging a little at the moment, but successfully reached 50 percent renewable energy usage in , with the ultimate target of making that percent.

Ultimately, the global environment, the bottomline trend—ever-increasing energy consumption—is the one that matters. It's no good congratulating yourself on switching to diet Cola if you're drinking four times more of it than you used to. In , Peter Judge of DatacenterDynamics summed things up pithily: "No one talks much about total energy used by data centers because the figures you get for that are annoying, depressing and frustrating The truth is: data center power is out of control. From Google searches to Facebook updates and super-convenient Hotmail, most of us value the benefits of cloud computing very highly, so the energy consumption of data centers is bound to increase—and ensuring those big, power-hungry servers are fueled by green energy will become increasingly important in the years to come.

There's a shortage of good, recently published books about the cloud; these slightly older titles are still useful and relevant, but the technical details might not be up-to-date. All rights reserved. Full copyright notice and terms of use. Please rate or give feedback on this page and I will make a donation to WaterAid. Woodford, Chris. Cloud computing.

Why generate your own computing? In summary Pros Lower upfront costs and reduced infrastructure costs. Easy to grow your applications. Scale up or down at short notice.