Clearing up the Cloud

So I had assignment, work on a podcast about cloud computing. A subject I’m vaguely familiar with, because it seems to pop up here and there. Ads and headlines tell you to get on the cloud, use the cloud, companies making transitions onto the cloud. I had gotten some of my research together and I was ready to start typing my first draft.

So, as I was typing, my laptop suddenly slowed, you know that annoying thing when the mouse moves but it doesn’t really respond to your clicks. My laptop is three years old now, so it’s been doing that more and more. It got me a little paranoid. What if, right now, it crashes and I lose all my notes, all my work, all my files? I started thinking about where I kept my USB, but then I realized something, I didn’t even have to stand up.

As soon as my mouse started behaving I grabbed my York 2015 folder and, sliding it under grasp of my pointer, I dragged it over to the image of the two blue overlapping clouds.

That’s the logo for Microsoft’s One Drive. It’s a cloud storage service that lets me store my files on their servers, on my account, kind of like email.

But there is more to cloud computing than just storage.

So what is cloud computing, how do you use it and where is it heading? Those are some questions I’m going to explore on this episode.

So my files were safely backed up, but I had made a small mistake. Those files weren’t mine anymore. I forgot to copy them, I just moved them.

They still belonged to me. They’re still mine in the conceptual sense, but they weren’t here anymore, not on my computer. Not on anyone’s computer really. They were bits and pieces, scattered across Microsoft’s servers.

That made me a little nervous about my work, so I clicked on the cloud folder, copied, and pasted York 2015 back onto my computer’s local documents folder.

Good, I had two copies.

One on my computer, but if anything happened I could always go and access the second copy through my account on the Microsoft cloud, One Drive.

I still don’t really know where the files are physically, and I don’t really care.

I do know that when I copy files, there isn’t a bearded guy in a Star Wars shirt sipping from a can of Red Bull, watching the files move one by one, his head tilted back, peering through his thick framed glasses, nodding stern and knowingly.

He doesn’t need to exist.

That’s one of the things that makes cloud computing so appealing to large companies and users.

There is no need to monitor the process. Logging into my account grants me automatic access to whatever services I’ve signed up for. I can save my homework, favorite songs, movies, whatever, compressed into bits of bytes, waiting until I need it. The nature of sharing resources makes cloud computing cheap.

So does email constitute cloud computing, what about YouTube? Does the label that reads, cloud compatible affixed to the printer box, really mean anything?

The ‘cloud’ is quickly become a buzz word, fanned by marketing speculators, it spreading like intense wildfire, and it’s finally starting to burn itself out. Basically, it’s getting thrown around a lot and has started to lose meaning.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a cloud computing service has five characteristics. The same document; however, states that these characteristics are not absolutely the final word, but a broad outline. A short PDF of their definition can be found here.

The first one, I’ve said before, allows user access without the need of human intervention. Second, you can access data from various platforms, laptops, cellphones, tablets, pretty much anything with an internet connection. Third is resource pooling, which means that users gain access to a shared pool of resources. Individual work still stays private. Fourth is ‘Rapid Elasticity’ of the service, which means your allotted resources are measured and applied, instantly. And finally, the resources you do need are measured depending on your usage and level of service. (“Definition of Cloud Computing“ 6)

This definition of cloud computing was finally developed in 2011, but that was fifty years after the original concept was being kicked around.

Cloud computing as a philosophy can trace its roots back to the 60’s and the work of J.C.R. Licklider, who was busy working at DARPA for the United States Government.

I know what you’re probably thinking, isn’t J.C.R. Licklider the guy who’s credited with inventing the internet.

Wow, you’re right. It’s the same guy. Because J.C.R., or Mr. Licklider, early became aware that users stationed at separate computer terminals would be more efficient if they could access information from each other without having to get up and physically retrieve it. Add millions of workstations, larger workstations called servers, and you have the Internet.

Now, if those same two people have access to a third terminal that holds greater computational power, which they access and use freely – That’s cloud computing.

Back in the 60’s Licklider’s research was very high tech stuff, just to get two computers to connect. This was before the convenience of online shopping, laptops, cellphones. If you wanted to get anything done you had to go out and do it.

Imagine trying to get through a day?

Let’s try it.

Let’s slide you back a half decade. I’ll just make a few quick changes to your clothes and hair and sprinkle a few things in your pockets to suit the time. All the amazing research going on in the world of computing doesn’t interest you though, because you have a date.

And you have to meet, at the cinema, in half an hour. Work ran a little late and now you’re running to catch the bus, and stop at the flower shop, and make sure there is enough time to stand in line and grab tickets. You, along with some friendly citizens, wait at the bus stop, just outside of the city, in the quiet suburbs. Luckily you won’t have to walk. There’s enough space for all of you to load up, and get carried under the buses power. Unfortunately you can’t keep your phone, so you’ll have to find another way to keep yourself busy while you wait. You can think about which movie you’re gunna watch. I recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’ve heard good things. Now what? Guess you’ll have to talk to each other. You can talk about the movie, human potential, killer A.I., maybe you’ll make a new friend.

Boredom really isn’t a concern for us here in 2015, we have all the tech and apps to keep us busy. The internet has become such a necessary part of daily life that an online presence is unavoidable. One large problem that this constant connection to outside systems presents comes in the form of security.

Even though it isn’t something we’ve all experience losing control of vulnerable data can be a tremendous risk. Remember what happened with Ashely Madison? The site that lets married couples cheat on each other. Remember when they got hacked, all the user data was stolen, spread on the internet and one guy killed himself?

Online privacy will only become more and more of a quiet concern as we upload more of ourselves online.

Instances of hackers gaining access to high profile information hasn’t abated. As this Globe and Mail article points out, vulnerabilities in security or even lax security procedures keep the loss of private data a real risk. (El Akkad, Dingman 1)

Big companies make for big targets and when the place where you’ve stored your data gets hacked you can find yourself in trouble. Securing cloud infrastructures is a huge business. Lucky for us it’s something the big companies take seriously.

How seriously? How about quantum cryptography? That’s right, it has a name so cool we can’t possibly understand what it means. Stefani Barz et al, working at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology experimented with storing information at the quantum level that could only be accessed by permitted users. They indicate that,

Our experiment is a step toward unconditionally secure quantum computing in a client-server environment where the client’s entire computation remains hidden, a functionality not known to be achievable in the classical world. This should present an important privacy-preserving technique in future quantum computing networks or clouds. (Barz)

Quantum computing is still in its infancy, and it won’t ever really replace your desktop. But there are installations in the world that do house these super computers. If anyone wants to use these resources, they can.

Using cloud technology, individuals with the appropriate level of need, can access the computational power. I’m talking researchers and programmers working on complex code or trying to factor huge numbers. It’s not for those of us who want to play the newest Call of Duty.

But don’t worry cloud computing will soon be solving your gaming needs.

You know that feeling when you finally saved up enough cash and you went out and bought the perfect graphics card? 600 bucks later and you’re blasting holes through newbs in gloriously rendered carnage, 6 weeks later and your card is out dated. 6 months later and its obsolete.

Researchers at Cornell University investigated graphic processing over cloud systems, concluded that

Cloud computing services provide a means for researchers to obtain the performance enhancements of GPU-based micromagnetic simulations without investing in specialized computer hardware.” Using MuMax3 simulations, they found that “a nearly ten-fold performance enhancement can be obtained over CPU-based micromagnetic codes when simulating large systems. (Jermain)

While their research wasn’t about gaming. It will affect the outcome of how graphic loads are processed, layered and streamed to users. This technology will free us from the burden of continuous hardware upgrades.

Well, it already has. Appropriately, it’s called cloud gaming. Remember OnLive? The epitaph on their website reads

“As the first-ever game streaming service of its kind, everyone who has ever played a game using OnLive has contributed to the technology and its evolution in some way. We’re immensely proud of what’s been achieved and extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for being a part of the OnLive Game Service.”

The service does have a future, but perhaps didn’t come around at the right time. AWS, offers a similar service for

One of the limiting factors for this technology is bandwidth. You have to have an internet connection that can handle gigs of processing data running back and forth. But fiber optics should solve that problem.

The future of cloud gaming will make access to higher level graphics much more affordable.

This is the tremendous benefit of cloud computing. It offers us the ability to offload our hardware, software and maintenance needs to someone who specializes in doing just that. This makes things cheaper.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) does just that. Amazon offers a wide range of tools on their cloud servers. In the first quarter of 2015 AWS generated a sales revenue of $1.57 Billion, according to the BBC. (BBC) This amount exceeded forecast. Cloud computing is a swelling industry, Google, IBM and Microsoft each have their own line of services. You might be familiar with Google Docs, through Gmail.

So is email a cloud service?

Not, not if you have a regular Hotmail account. But if you did want to get an email could service you could sign up for an account with GoDaddy.com and they’ll provide you with a @yourchoice.com email address and. If you consider the monthly cost of this rental, vs the cost of maintaining your own server which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It’s easy to see why the cloud is staying afloat.

Cloud computing offers the advantage of performance, storage and computational increases for researchers, developers and even accountants. But cloud computing goes beyond just helping people.

It’s even helping robots talk to each other.

Robopocalypse, a soon to be movie, about robots destroying humanity. Is based off of a novel by Daniel H. Wilson. Wilson’s story depicts a dystopian future, mankind fighting for survival against a global network of self-aware robots.

And now, thanks to the wonders of cloud computing, Wilson’s prediction is one step closer to becoming a reality; we still need the A.I. wanting destroy humanity part. But that’s up to the really smart scientists to figure out…

Anyways, what Wilson did, so far, predict correctly, is the technology that enables robots to communicate and share tasks with each other. Researchers at the Data Storage Institute in Singapore are currently working on mapping these algorithms for robots. Their research

show[s] how significant performance gains in execution times to build a map of a large area can be achieved with even a very small eight-node Hadoop cluster. The global map can later be shared with other robots introduced in the environment via a Software as a Service (SaaS) Model. This reduces the burden of exploration and map building for the new robot and minimizes it's need for additional sensors. (Arumugam)

The cost, weight, and power consumption of complex computational hardware on individual robots are an obvious restricting factors when it comes to their development. But if complex computation can be offloaded into a central or shared resources provider, it makes building individual robots cheaper.

Rapyuta, is another robotic cloud framework. Their video demonstrates how cloud computing and collective intelligence works for robots.

So is the future of cloud computing a robot rampage, driven by out of control artificial intelligence? Who knows, but it’s entertaining reading.

Oh, speaking of out of control A.I., I see your still standing in line for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately the banks were closed and you didn’t have the cash for flowers. Don’t worry, that wilted bouquet you fished out of the dumpster from behind the store looks just fine.

As the line to the ticket counter inches along, you’re later and later for the movie, and you date finally gets fed up and decides to walk home. Sorry about that.

But I’ll give you another chance. First I’ll drag you back to 2015.

You’re sitting at home, lounging in your easy chair, your dates on her way to meet you. And you have 10 minutes to get everything done. But that’s okay.

You pull out your phone and do a little online banking. Accessing their cloud you transfer some money out of your savings account. You search for nearby flower shops, find one. You get in touch with a delivery courier service that finds a delivery guy near your area, have the flowers picked up and delivered, to meet you just outside the theatre. Movie tickets online and your seats are reserved.

You saunter downstairs pulling a clean sweater over your head. Then you lace up your shoes. You step out onto the street just as your Uber driver, Franco, is waiting in his Black Prius.

As cloud computing continues to evolve there is no way to predict how it will affect our daily lives in years to come, but thanks to the steady evolution of technology you can sit back and let out a nice yawn, cozy in the back seat, just let Franco know where to go.

Easy.

Good luck with your date and whatever lies ahead.

Happy future,

Works Cited:

“The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing.” National Institute of Standards and Technology. Web Sept. 2011

El Akkad, Omar; Dingman, Shane. "Cloud-Hacking Underscores Risk of Smartphone Storage." The Globe and Mail. 02, Sept. 2014: Web.

Barz, Stephanie, Et Al. "Demonstration of Blind Quantum Computing." SCIENCE 335.6066 (2012): 303-08. Print.

Jermain, C.L. Et AL. "GPU-accelerated Micromagnetic Simulations Using Cloud Computing." Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 401 (2016): 320-22. Print.

BBC. “Amazon web services 'growing fast'.” BBC. 24, April. 2015: Web

Arunugam, R. Et AL. " DAvinCi: A cloud computing framework for service robots." Robotics and Automation (ICRA), (2010): 3084 - 3089. Print.