Oct 062010
Authors: Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer

This week we had the honor of chatting with our good friend, neighbor and computer geek Mr. Brett Marshbanks. If you didn’t read our tease in last week’s article, Brett, who is a student by day and superhero by night, is graduating this December with honors and a degree in computer information systems.

In order to graduate with honors from CSU, one must write a thesis.

Brett, rather than writing about something boring like the chronic effects of Borrelia burgdorferi, is writing about cloud computing and how it’s changing the face of computing as we know it.

Here are some of the ideas he shared with us during the interview.

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid.”

You can think of it as your computer’s information being stored in a “cloud” –– essentially the wide-open sky of the Internet. Once it’s all there, your computer only has to connect to the Internet and all your stuff is there –– documents, programs, personalized settings ­­–– rather than being stored on your hard drive.

But why would you want to give up your hard drive? If a copy of your system was available on the cloud, you wouldn’t be tied to much hardware. “Your computer” could be any computer.

Consumer level of use

Consumer use of cloud computing depends on what one is trying to do.

Data storage is the most basic form of cloud computing. Web services like Drop Box can store your data, acting like a second hard drive.

There are also places that host data, such as Netflix On-Demand, or onlive.com, a new gaming service that allows you to download video games and play them on your PC without leaving home or buying a console.

Netflix upended the movie rental industry, proving the power of business models based on the cloud, so all the game console makers out there better watch out for onlive.com.

Google Docs provides an example of actual applications that run in your web browser. These have complex functions and act as full programs.

Corporate level of use

Now we’ve entered the world of big servers.

Until recently, most companies’ servers were kept on-site. But now, businesses like Amazon have built giant server farms, sorta like that scene in the Matrix, except with servers rather than people.

For a fee, companies can lease out their own chunk of the farm. This is great for smaller companies that can’t afford their own hardware, or have large fluctuations in traffic, because Amazon only charges them for the space and bandwidth that they use.

The downside

Some are skeptical of how secure data is when stored on cloud and not at home.

Hackers could access vast amounts of information because it’s all in one place.

But according to Brett’s research, the sheer size of the server farms we’re talking about, coupled with the fact that their location is kept secret, make finding a weakness very time consuming; enough that security will be alerted before one can be found.

Columnists Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer are officially going to CES in January. They can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:21 pm

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