Clouding the Future

Clouding the Future

Outlook: mostly fine, with clouds increasing later and the chance of jargon rain likely

I was just beginning to contemplate the formulation of the thought to back up my files when my desktop suddenly died. While waiting for it to rebuild, I read an article telling me that the desktop computer was dead. How did they know? The article was about cloud computing and stream computing, names that meant nothing to me, but sounded nice and environmental, so I investigated the concept.

Cloud computing is where software and applications are hosted on Internet servers, rather than on local servers or desktops. The most common examples are search engines, maps, e-mail and photo sharing, newer social-oriented applications (such as dating and networking), and increasingly business-oriented applications (word processing, spreadsheets and databases). With access to files anywhere in the world and automatic backups every few minutes, this model looks attractive not only to contemplators of backups like myself, but those who don't wish to own and load applications personally or lug laptops when travelling.

Unlike nature, where streams are the result of cloud activity, stream computing lives inside clouds to provide the activity, using graphics processing units (GPUs) as high- performance data processors. GPU performance has leap-frogged CPUs due to the popularity and demands of game machines. Their performance has doubled every six months, rather than the 18 months of CPUs.

Clouds are now becoming big business. Google and IBM have announced plans to build large data centres with enormous processing and storage capacities that students can log into remotely. A capability of this magnitude, with its inevitable student content of funny videos, questionable images, photos and blogs, would be more accurately measured not in petabytes or petaflops, but in petajunk.

Sun, which sounds like the ideal brand to work with clouds and streams, has bought Tarantella, one of the pioneers of Internet computing. As many major companies do with their new acquisitions, Sun transformed a catchy name to a long, unwieldy one: Sun Secure Global Desktop. Compare that to the Swedish "OS on the Web" competitor Xcerion, which is a vibrant, exciting name that means nothing, though could be derived from being execrable to pronounce.

Google has bought PeakStream, IBM will have its Blue Cloud running this quarter and Microsoft is building Cloud OS, called a utility computing fabric. Utilities generally refer to water and power companies, so I guess it can be applied to clouds and streams.

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