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Cloud Computing: New Name, Same Old Tech

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 50 comments

Larry Ellison Doesn’t Get Cloud Computing.

The other day, Tom’s Hardware’s Tuan Nguyen sent me a link to this video on YouTube, which shows Larry Ellison ridiculing cloud computing.

Larry Ellison Doesn't Like Cloud Computing

He doesn’t poke fun at the idea itself, but at the buzzword and, quite obviously, he  criticizes those who claim to have invented cloud computing just recently.  Sure, he has a point, there is a pretty substantial marketing cloud that is surrounding cloud computing. But I can’t help but think that Ellison was still frustrated that no one wanted to buy his NC. There is more to cloud computing than most of us know today.

Ellison is known to be outspoken. We just witnessed this again in the HP-Hurd case where he certainly did not hold back any thoughts. He was quite vocal about cloud computing as well. It is a video that is worth watching, but keep in mind that the video was taken in 2009 and we are now in 2010. I would argue that our perception of cloud computing has changed dramatically since last year, we are much more educated about it than we were last year and I would almost bet that Ellison would not say everything in the same way as he said it in this video.

However, even in 2009, there was so much wrong with his statements. He claims cloud computing is not just the future – it is the present and it has been the past. Essentially, to Ellison, cloud computing represents a bunch of connected computers or, in short, the Internet.

Really? A quick look to Wikipedia, which has an excellent explanation of cloud computing, reveals that Ellison’s statements were false and if you found yourself laughing with the audience, then it just shows that we still do not know exactly what the meaning, implications and benefits of cloud computing are. Or, we just laugh, because Ellison can make the phone book sound funny. But I believe that he sits on his own Silicon Valley billionaire cloud and his perspective excludes the rest of us.

What is Cloud Computing?

The idea of cloud computing isn’t new. Depending on your preference, you can trace the origins back to J.C.R Licklider, one of the pioneers of the ARPANET, who described his visions of an “intergalactic computer network” in 1969 and computer scientist Jon McCarthy who said in about the same timeframe that "computation may someday be organized as a public utility". In fact, Larry Ellison is also often mentioned among those who envisioned cloud computing: Oracle pitched the NC, a thin client computer that essentially represented an Internet-connected device with virtually no local storage capabilities, in 1996. It was ready to ship in 1999, but, unfortunately, no one wanted the NC back then and it seems that the NC was invented nearly 20 years too early.

As we understand cloud computing today, it is not just the Internet and a bunch of connected devices. In its basic concept, cloud computing implies sharing computing resources such as processor time, storage and services that are acquired in the same way we use utilities such as gas and electric. It’s just there when you need it and you pay for it as you go. If it works, the resources will scale dynamically with increasing or decreasing demand.
There are different types of cloud models – the private cloud, which is provided to a restricted set of customers; the community cloud, which delivers cloud services to multiple organizations based on similar needs; the public cloud, which is an open third party platform that acts as a utility to many customers; and hybrid cloud, which combines multiple internal and external cloud providers within one cloud infrastructure to provide subscribers with greater choice.

If we look back in IT history, there have been models that can be compared to cloud computing, but to set them on an equal level as we see cloud computing today, would be false. Is distributed computing such as Seti@Home or Folding@Home cloud computing? What about Google Docs? What about utility computing? And software-as-a-service (SaaS)?

If you look closely, then none of those systems are synonymous with the phrase cloud computing. They are all sub-systems of cloud computing. SaaS is the software layer of cloud computing. Seti@Home is an example for what we refer to as the grid-computing layer. Google Docs is just software (service) as well. All those technologies (and a few more) combined represent parts of cloud computing. The cloud unifies individual computing ideas of the past and describes a way how we acquire them and how we pay for them.

Enterprise vs. Consumer

In the enterprise field, you could argue for days whether cloud computing is new or not. I would say, however, that there are substantial new trends we haven’t seen before. Businesses and government organizations show a willingness to host their critical data off site, for example. Security concerns are being addressed effectively and Google should be credited for driving this trend, while Oracle, for example, has missed this opportunity in the past few years entirely. Oracle could not get the highest security certifications from the U.S. government for its services. Google did.

I might also mention that today’s enterprise cloud computing concepts provide opportunities that are pretty new. Renting and sharing computing resources is not only the idea to save upfront investments: The best idea I have heard to take advantage of cloud computing so far is reverse capacity planning: A simple approach when you hear it, but it dramatically changes the way budgets for IT may be planned.

When you set up your server environment in the past, you had to plan for the maximum load and then some. The reality was that you had to over-purchase hardware to make sure your infrastructure was kept alive in emergency scenarios. In cloud computing,  you purchase the absolute minimum that is necessary to keep you running. And if you need more resources they are there and they will scale with you as you need them. And you only pay for what you need and when you need it. You don’t pay for servers that are potentially sitting idle most of the time.

Sure, cloud computing has disadvantages as well, but that isn’t really the topic here. It’s the definition of cloud computing.

I believe that Ellison’s remarks simplify the cloud beyond an acceptable level. If the cloud has been with us in the past, where exactly was it? It certainly was not in my past. 15 years ago, was I part of a cloud computing community simply because I had a dial-up modem access to Compuserve?

Today’s cloud computing idea goes far beyond the idea of anything that was cloud-related until a few years ago. It is stunning to see how much the consumer perception of renting services has changed: Cloud computing has massive consumer implications today – implications Ellison and many of us may not have seen even last year. We are storing lots of our data in the cloud already and we are getting more and more used to it. It’s not difficult to imagine that it is easier for us to see value in subscriptions to services, especially since we are already subscribing to cellphones, TV services, wireless broadband, etc. Our children will grow up with this concept and it will be natural for them to perceive software as a service and most likely view computing resources much like they view electricity.                

Name this: Cloud Computing

There are reasons why cloud computing is called cloud computing and not Internet, VPN, grid computing or SaaS. But I admit that the idea of cloud computing isn’t entirely new and as Ellison states, companies such as Salesforce.com have been around for a while. They now use the term cloud computing, because it is fashionable, but also because we possibly understand what cloud computing roughly means. How did Ellison call this concept back in 1996? Thin-client computing? To be honest I can’t remember.

If we are comfortable with the phrase cloud computing, so what? If marketing tricks us into believing that it is new, so what? Seriously: Who cares? Whether it is called cloud computing, thin-client computing or, as Ellison called it in this video, water vapor, is meaningless. What matters is that the trend and phrase have caught on and that we are going to see a change in the way we will use computers and other connected devices in the future. And if you think about it, this change is substantial and it is likely to stick with us for a long time.  

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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    dredj , August 31, 2010 6:11 PM
    The U.S. needs a better broadband infrastructure, then, cloud computing will take off. I don't care what you call it, the masses will adopt it for reliability and ease of use. People like me, however, will stick to huge PC boxes where I can super-process what I want on my own hardware. At least, after I win that i7 rig....Tom's? You there?
  • 15 Hide
    soccerplayer88 , August 31, 2010 6:32 PM
    Now we can have tech support AND our hardware over in foreign countries!

    Excellent idea...

    /sarcasm
  • 12 Hide
    LORD_ORION , August 31, 2010 6:53 PM
    Wow... what an article full of absolute crap and misdirection.

    Cloud computing today is not about offloading processing tasks to thin clients as it was back then. (what do you think ASP has been doing for everyone hooked up to dial-up as you put it, it is not asking you to process your own requests with code behind, jesus).

    Cloud computing today is about

    1) Putting your 'data' out there for harvesting.

    2) Getting away with selling crap like Atoms at inflated prices and paving the way to charge for processing services once this model is forced en masse.

    In short, in 20 years they want control over everything. They want to sell you limited hardware at inflated prices so they can inflate the prices of the machines doing the processing to the corporations, who in turn want to eventually charge you for said processing when you have no choice. This means they also want to phase out powerful desktops as you know it. They will also harvest all your data and sell it.

    This has always been the motive of this model since the inception... but they quickly realized consumers could also subsidize processing advancements to ensure it was American corporations who came out on top. So, they bit the bullet for 2 decades and let us pay for processing advancements, and now fully intend to take it away from us now that it has reached critical mass for the level of data and processing they need.

    In short, fight cloud computing as hard as you can.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    nforce4max , August 31, 2010 6:03 PM
    SKYNET
  • 16 Hide
    dredj , August 31, 2010 6:11 PM
    The U.S. needs a better broadband infrastructure, then, cloud computing will take off. I don't care what you call it, the masses will adopt it for reliability and ease of use. People like me, however, will stick to huge PC boxes where I can super-process what I want on my own hardware. At least, after I win that i7 rig....Tom's? You there?
  • 3 Hide
    jomofro39 , August 31, 2010 6:20 PM
    Maybe if he got his head out of the clouds.....
  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , August 31, 2010 6:30 PM
    They should have called it i-cloud!
  • 15 Hide
    soccerplayer88 , August 31, 2010 6:32 PM
    Now we can have tech support AND our hardware over in foreign countries!

    Excellent idea...

    /sarcasm
  • -5 Hide
    sliem , August 31, 2010 6:32 PM
    Who's he?
  • 8 Hide
    ricardok , August 31, 2010 6:33 PM
    I do agree that cloud computing is something old. We had mainframes that did this "cloud computing" before but only on enterprise level. Not exactly the same as what we have now with several PCs connected to the internet and using programs located on a different continent, but still, it was, to some extent, cloud computing anyway.
  • 3 Hide
    Trialsking , August 31, 2010 6:39 PM
    nforce4maxSKYNET


    If Skynet can store all my games and stream Crysis 1 & 2 at 60+ Fps with 16xAA and 16XAF.....bring on the terminators!
  • 9 Hide
    agnickolov , August 31, 2010 6:44 PM
    Actually, this long winded article simply validated Larry's point - the media loves to spin words, but the essence was with us since the early days of computing in the 50s and 60s. We had a hiatus into personal computing starting in the 80s and we are slowly coming back to the roots on a much grander scale today. This is the first cycle if cycle it indeed is, but the pendulum may swing back to personal computing in the future too...
  • 6 Hide
    False_Dmitry_II , August 31, 2010 6:45 PM
    You could also say that cloud computing is simply the return of dumb terminals connected to a mainframe. That is ancient. I think this is the closest definition of what it is. You don't have pretty much any resources locally at all. You just sign in from wherever there is a terminal that has access and use as much computing power and storage as needed.

    Not only that, but yeah we'd need faster internet in the US to do it. All of my friends around here still have 1.5 down internet connections. I pay for 16 (charter cable) but most of the time get higher than that. Sometimes as much as 30 down and faster than they get down going up.

    Then there's Steam Cloud. Is having them keep all the settings and savegames on their servers close enough? I can still turn on whichever computer I feel like, including ones not mine, and download any cloud enabled game then pick up where I left off with all my settings. It's pretty close to the do whatever from anywhere which is just about right I'd say.
  • 12 Hide
    LORD_ORION , August 31, 2010 6:53 PM
    Wow... what an article full of absolute crap and misdirection.

    Cloud computing today is not about offloading processing tasks to thin clients as it was back then. (what do you think ASP has been doing for everyone hooked up to dial-up as you put it, it is not asking you to process your own requests with code behind, jesus).

    Cloud computing today is about

    1) Putting your 'data' out there for harvesting.

    2) Getting away with selling crap like Atoms at inflated prices and paving the way to charge for processing services once this model is forced en masse.

    In short, in 20 years they want control over everything. They want to sell you limited hardware at inflated prices so they can inflate the prices of the machines doing the processing to the corporations, who in turn want to eventually charge you for said processing when you have no choice. This means they also want to phase out powerful desktops as you know it. They will also harvest all your data and sell it.

    This has always been the motive of this model since the inception... but they quickly realized consumers could also subsidize processing advancements to ensure it was American corporations who came out on top. So, they bit the bullet for 2 decades and let us pay for processing advancements, and now fully intend to take it away from us now that it has reached critical mass for the level of data and processing they need.

    In short, fight cloud computing as hard as you can.
  • 0 Hide
    billj214 , August 31, 2010 6:59 PM
    Hey I can remember many times I said something that was stupid but at least I didn't create a video about it and get it posted on Tom's!

    As for what to call "Cloud Computing" I don't really care since it's more of an explanation of what it is VS. an actual name!

    I think the best part of cloud computing is that I wouldn't have to wait for my Virus scanner to finish running in order to get some work done!
  • -2 Hide
    zak_mckraken , August 31, 2010 7:00 PM
    Who's "they"?
  • 8 Hide
    cadder , August 31, 2010 7:03 PM
    Cloud computing is a giant step backwards in many ways. When I started in computers we had to punch cards and use them to run programs on a computer that was far away. We were at the mercy of the computer, of the people manning the terminals, etc. We got our computing done when it was convenient to THEM, not when it was convenient to US. PERSONAL computers were so much better, because they were personal. You had your own computer that would do what you wanted, when you wanted. You didn't have to wait for the whims and mercy of anybody else. Now if we go back to letting someone else manage our computing, we will get it when they are willing to give it to us, which may not be when we want it.

    You can already see that now if you rely on websites for email, forums, etc. I sit at my computer each day and want to check the latest news and discussions on various websites, including my email. Some days those websites work and I get what I want, somedays they don't work and I have to wait. I don't like waiting on someone else.
  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , August 31, 2010 7:05 PM
    I'll stick with my data in my possession thank you! I wont trust a cloud to secure my private data! I like to back up my own stuff too. Just imagine your a sales person with a list of great contacts stored on said cloud. Your competitors hack the cloud and gain access to your contacts, how do you prove what happened without even an access log? And that's just one possibility when using this tech. Just wait until the malware folks get into the clouds! This is good tech for some things, just not the be all end all it's being portrayed as.
  • 1 Hide
    mark0718 , August 31, 2010 7:06 PM
    "They are all sub-systems of cloud computing"
    I think you are incorrect.
    All are special cases of distributed computing.

    I don't know a term for the lowest level of distribution usually
    see "distributed" used for the lowest level of distribution
    and also the highest level.

    This is what I have seen:
    my computers or my company's computers = distributed (since 1960s)

    computers from companies making a living at it with a specific
    plans for sharing loads and contract to provide capacity =
    computing utility (perhaps since 1980s)

    No formal plan for sharing, with much of the capacity not
    guaranteed = cloud computing. (1990s, perhaps earlier)

    In other words, Utility = contractual, Cloud = not contractual
  • 5 Hide
    ares1214 , August 31, 2010 7:13 PM
    Ahhh great...communism and Skynet all wrapped in one...
  • 3 Hide
    orionantares , August 31, 2010 7:22 PM
    Summary, cloud computing is a marketing term for things that have already been in existence on a smaller scale and expanded upon to more end users as network access, availability, and reliability have increased.
  • -1 Hide
    orionantares , August 31, 2010 7:28 PM
    agnickolovActually, this long winded article simply validated Larry's point - the media loves to spin words, but the essence was with us since the early days of computing in the 50s and 60s. We had a hiatus into personal computing starting in the 80s and we are slowly coming back to the roots on a much grander scale today. This is the first cycle if cycle it indeed is, but the pendulum may swing back to personal computing in the future too...


    I think that if it does cycle back to the "personal" hardware it'll either be to personal "cloud" boxes that you'd access through mobile devices (phones/pads) or more powerful self contained mobile devices. It really depends on how the tech advances and which trends the companies promote. The Google/Verizon net "neutrality" plan for wireless would definitely detract from the personal "cloud" boxes.
  • 3 Hide
    tommysch , August 31, 2010 7:36 PM
    The problem with the new iteration of the ''cloud'' is that its basically a second try to shove SaaS down our throat. Steam is as far as Im willing to get in the cloud. Dont get me wrong, its awesome in its current form. But thats a selling point (aka clever marketing), once you get hooked they reel you in. DLC anyone?
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