The Cloud, So Mom Can Understand
I’m thrilled you’ve embraced the complex world of data with so much interest. In my previous letters, I’ve tried to explain all the hype and excitement around topics like data management, metadata, big data and even the Internet of Things. It’s great you feel more comfortable discussing these topics with your friends – and after my 23+ years in data management, it’s nice you can better explain to them what I do for a living!
I can tell your interest in technology has really been piqued since you’re now asking how people have figured out how to install computer equipment on clouds. Yes, you made excellent points that the rain and moisture in clouds would very likely short circuit all of that electronic equipment and that a sunny day might lead to computers falling from the sky – a true safety hazard!
Kidding aside, I know you understand the term “cloud” in cloud computing is just a metaphor used to market a technology trend. But what does that metaphor represent, and why is it such a big deal?
Simply put, “Cloud” represents technology capabilities that are no longer installed and managed onsite within businesses or homes (e.g., “on the ground!”). This marketing concept was born between the mid-1990’s and 2000’s from businesses looking for new ways to harness the power of the Internet. Yes, that same Internet you use to search Google for ratatouille recipes. The Internet is a massive computer network linking smaller networks via our worldwide communications infrastructure. To manage the crazy volume of data they were indexing and assimilating, Google and other Internet services leverage massive computing power in far away data centers based in exotic locations like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Atlanta. And yes, those data centers are in fact in buildings on the ground and not floating in the sky.
Cloud computing is a really big deal for businesses large and small looking to reduce the high costs of managing hardware and software within their own environments. Instead, they love the economics of simply “renting” these capabilities through subscription services that they can cancel or change at any time with little to no impact to their IT environment. This agility is really important to them as it allows them to adapt their IT strategy and direction as their business (or the world around them) changes, without being as locked in to prior infrastructure investments.
But it’s not only businesses that are benefiting from Cloud computing. This trend has also introduced major changes to consumer experiences and behaviors. You’re a movie buff; let’s use your history of movie purchasing to highlight this trend.
Remember not so long ago, when you wanted to watch a movie you would go to this odd place called a video store (such as Blockbuster)? In the beginning you’d go to rent or buy VHS tapes (sorry Betamax). That eventually transitioned to DVDs. You’d take the movies home and put them into your VCR or DVD player – very specific hardware you were required to purchase and install at home to watch these movies. You’d pay as you go, renting or buying whatever movies you wanted. Oh yeah, remember late fees if you didn’t return the rentals on time!
Then along came Netflix. Instead of one-off rentals, you actually had a subscription to their service allowing you to rent, say, 2-3 movies at any given time. You used the Internet to browse their catalog of movies on their website. You chose which movies you wanted, and they would send DVD’s to you in the mail and in just a few days you’d have your movie. Sometimes there were waiting lists for new releases, but for the most part you eventually got the movie you wanted.
That mail at home convenience was a great innovation, but you were still waiting days to get your movie since you were dealing with physical DVDs. But then something really major happened. Netflix loaded its entire movie catalog onto its data centers – it moved it to the Cloud – and suddenly you could watch any movie Netflix offered “on demand”, on any Internet-connected device you desired (e.g., DVR, laptop, tablet, gaming console, set-top box, phone), as often as you wanted with no delays – all as part of your subscription. Netflix and similar services also offered a variety of payment options including unlimited viewing subscriptions as well as one-off movie purchases or rentals. Netflix’ move to the Cloud pretty much killed Blockbuster and the entire video store industry.
Going full circle back to our earlier discussions on data management, why is this whole cloud trend such a big deal for data management professionals like me? Well, those of us responsible for ensuring important enterprise data is safe, clean and connected to support a wide variety of business objectives used to have it a bit easier. The data we cared most about was within our direct control in the databases, mainframes and other applications within our own IT infrastructure. There was a ton of complexity, but at least that complexity was contained. But with Cloud computing taking off, suddenly really important data is being captured, consumed and shared across a wide variety of new environments that have less mature governance and controls available. Bottom line: data management on the ground is much more mature than in the Cloud; our job is to help it grow up!
I hope this helped you to better understand the concepts behind Cloud computing. I know you and Dad were in the middle of streaming a Harry Potter movie marathon, so I’ll let you get back to it.