January 14, 2012

Getting Sick of 'Cloud Computing' term

I [or rather, my PC] was part of the Distributed.Net 'cloud' that first cracked a DES key in under 24 hours* via brute-force.  That effort involved computing power from PC desktops to a large specialized computing platform built just to contribute to the effort.  Computers have come a long way since then, and with it, the term 'cloud computing' has evolved.  Being in technology for 25 years, you see buzzwords come and go, and along the way, they can have a tendency to change their meaning, or get usurped by well-meaning (or profit-minded) marketeers.  Unfortunately, 'cloud computing' is just one of these buzzwords with an original meaning that had so much more importance than how the word is used today.

The original references to 'cloud computing' had a lot more to do with looking at the Internet [or Intranet] as a single unified entity, where the available resources of the entire network could be shared and made available for specific use, not reliant upon the existence of a single computer, router, or data center.  Like the distributed.net client, large, previously unsolvable problems, could be addressed and solved by the available resources in the cloud.  Like P2P technologies such as FreeNet, documents could be kept online in distributed caches that were always available and structured so that node failure would not affect availability except in extreme cases.  Idle CPU, GPU power would be used to evaluate expressions endlessly to delve into the mysteries of mankind, like the Folding@Home project or the Optimal Golomb Ruler project.  Network connectivity could even be shared to provide multiple endpoints for load-testing, or geo-distributed network analysis.

Even the spammers get it -or rather, maybe they're the first and only ones to get it.  Worm software today installs dispersed clients on vulnerable machines that are used to attack computers in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, send out SPAM email from every corner of the globe and extend the network for hackers and thieves.  They use idle time on computers, provide multiple caches for malware to be distributed throughout the network, and use network dispersity to reach every corner of the globe.  Criminals and their malware have already moved into the real cloud.

Meanwhile, in corporate and consumer industry circles, when someone discusses the 'cloud', they mean something different.  They mean a service - what used to be called an Application Hosting Service (AHS).  This isn't what cloud computing was meant to be - a third-party data center (or multiples thereof).  All of the big boys have a cloud service, Microsoft, Apple, Google.  There's even second-tier cloud service providers, such as SugarSync and DropBox, whose cloud offerings rely on the cloud offerings of others [DropBox relies upon S3 - the Amazon storage cloud offering].

As an idealist and a technologist, I am depressed, but not surprised, that the term 'cloud computing' has lost its way - probably because true cloud computing relies upon a concept of shared resources that our capitalist economy doesn't incentivize.  There's no simple way to transfer bits of money to each and every entity that provides resources in the cloud. [Well, there's BitCoin - but cloud-money may be too late to the horizon and you can't spend it at WalMart yet...]

Well, that's my rant of the day.  As usual, no solution - just randombling.

* [publicly, at least]

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