computation is shifting again, with
functions migrating outward to distant
data centers reached through the Internet. The new regime is not quite a return to the hub-and-spoke topology of
time-sharing systems, if only because
there is no hub. A client computer on
the Internet can communicate with
many servers at the same time, some of
which may also be exchanging information among themselves. However, even
if we are not returning to the architecture of time-sharing systems, the sudden stylishness of the cloud paradigm
marks the reversal of a long-standing
trend. Where end users and corporate
IT managers once squabbled over possession of computing resources, both
sides are now willing to surrender a
large measure of control to third-party
service providers. What brought about
this change in attitude?
For the individual, total control
comes at a price. Software must be installed and configured, then updated
with each new release. The computational infrastructure of operating systems and low-level utilities must be
maintained. Every update to the operating system sets off a cascade of subsequent revisions to other programs.
Outsourcing computation to an Internet service eliminates nearly all these
concerns. Cloud computing also offers
end users advantages in terms of mobility and collaboration.
For software vendors who have shifted their operations into the cloud, the
incentives are similar to those motivating end users. Software sold or licensed
as a product to be installed on the user’s
hardware must be able to cope with a
baffling variety of operating environments. In contrast, software offered
as an Internet-based service can be developed, tested, and run on a comput-
for most applications,
the entire user
inside a single window
in a Web browser.
ing platform of the vendor’s choosing.
Updates and bug fixes are deployed in
minutes. (But the challenges of diversity don’t entirely disappear; the server-side software must be able to interact
with a variety of clients.)
Although the new model of Internet computing has neither hub nor
spokes, it still has a core and a fringe.
The aim is to concentrate computation
and storage in the core, where high-performance machines are linked by
high-bandwidth connections, and all of
these resources are carefully managed.
At the fringe are the end users making
the requests that initiate computations
and who receive the results.
Although the future of cloud computing is less than clear, a few examples of present practice suggest likely
Wordstar for the Web. The kinds of
productivity applications that first attracted people to personal computers
30 years ago are now appearing as software services. The Google Docs programs are an example, including a word
processor, a spreadsheet, and a tool
for creating PowerPoint-like presentations. Another undertaking of this kind
is Buzzword, a Web-based word processor acquired by Adobe Systems in 2007.
Another recent Adobe product is Pho-toshop Express, which has turned the
well-known image-manipulation program into an online service.
Enterprise computing in the cloud.
Software for major business applications (such as customer support, sales,
and marketing) has generally been run
on corporate servers, but several companies now provide it as an on-demand
service. The first was Salesforce.com,
founded in 1999, offering a suite of on-line programs for customer relationship management and other business-oriented tasks; the company’s slogan is
Cloudy infrastructure. It’s all very
well to outsource the chore of building and maintaining a data center,
but someone must still supply that infrastructure. Amazon.com has moved
into this niche of the Internet ecosystem. Amazon Web Services offers data
storage priced by the gigabyte-month
and computing capacity by the CPU-hour. Both kinds of resources expand
and contract according to need. IBM
has announced plans for the “Blue
Cloud” infrastructure. And Google is
testing the App Engine, which provides
hosting on Google server farms and a
software environment centered on the
Python programming language and the
Bigtable distributed storage system.
The cloud OS. For most cloud-com-puting applications, the entire user interface resides inside a single window
in a Web browser. Several initiatives
aim to provide a richer user experience for Internet applications. One
approach is to exploit the cloud-com-puting paradigm to provide all the facilities of an operating system inside a
browser. The eyeOS system, for example, reproduces the familiar desktop
metaphor—with icons for files, folders,
Gartner’s Seven IT Grand Challenges
What are the most important IT
challenges for the next 25 years?
At the recent Gartner Emerging
Trends Symposium/I Txpo,
Gartner analysts identified
seven IT grand challenges
that, if met, will have profound
economic, scientific and
societal impacts. They are:
˲ Eliminate the need to manu-
ally recharge wireless devices
˲ Parallel programming applica-
tions that fully exploit multicore
˲ Non-tactile, natural comput-
˲ Automated computer-to-hu-
man speech translation
˲ Reliable, long-term digital
˲ Increase programmer productivity by 100 percent
˲ Identify the financial consequences of I T investments
“IT leaders should always be
looking ahead for the emerging
technologies that will have
a dramatic impact on their
business, and information on
many of these future innovations
are already in some public
domain,” says Gartner VP Ken
McGee. To find such information,
Gartner suggests examining
relevant research papers, patents,
and production prototypes.