Superbowl Sunday is big business in the US as people all over the nation tune in to watch the American football match of the year. Pizza deliveries soar on what is one of the highest days of food consumption in the US. This year Domino’s Pizza found a new way to cope with the sudden burst of demand on its computing resources: using “the cloud” for extra capacity.
Hungry? Reach for the cloud…
Speaking at the evening reception for the two-day Cloudscape II conference in Brussels, Microsoft vice-president John Vassallo used this anecdote to illustrate the potential of cloud computing to revolutionise the way companies do business.
The cloud – and the experts are still arguing about its exact definition – is essentially a space where individuals, companies, academics or governments can access shared computer resources via the Internet. One result is that companies don’t need to have so much infrastructure or storage space locally, but can “go to the cloud”, take what they need and return it when they’ve finished. In other words, they just pay for what they use, similar to a rental service.
Steve McGibbon, Senior Director, Microsoft EMEA Technology, speaking at the Cloudscape II conference in Brussels in February 2010.
Cloud services aren’t a totally new idea though. The average person has been using them for years, just without the “cloud” moniker: Hotmail, Facebook and Twitter all run in the cloud. The big change now is that corporate giants such as Microsoft and Amazon are establishing themselves as major cloud providers, offering whole packages of services ranging from infrastructure to data storage to extra hosting capacity.
The European Commission is discussing the future of cloud computing, the opportunities it can provide and the obstacles that need to be overcome “at the highest possible level” in the context of the European Digital Agenda, said Kyriakos Baxevanidis from the Commission’s information society directorate-general (DG INFSO).
A recent report, produced by a group of Commission-appointed experts, emphasises the need to stimulate research and technological development in the area of cloud computing and to set up the right regulatory framework to enable its uptake.
Jesús Villasante, a head of unit at DG INFSO, highlighted some of the report’s recommendations. These include a call for large-scale research and experimentation test beds, which could be provided through public–private partnerships; joint programmes developed by the Commission with industrial and public stakeholders; and Commission encouragement for the development of standards for cloud interoperability.
While the cloud can be used by large enterprises, the consensus at the conference was that big companies won’t use it for all their needs and it may not be so easy to integrate with their existing infrastructure.
Where cloud computing seems to come into its own is in the world of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups because it removes the need for large capital outlays.
“The cloud means it’s rapid and cheap to develop ideas, and rapid and cheap to succeed, or fail and move on to the next idea,” said Paul Strong, a research scientist at eBay and a board member of Open Grid Forum Europe, which organised the conference. “You can run a business from your cellphone. This is where the cloud will allow us to go.”
Credit: Photograph Paul O’Driscoll