"The Cloud"

Harry

Harry
Written on 10th June 2020

Is "The Cloud" just someone else's computer?

There is a saying amongst us IT folk that “The Cloud” is just someone else’s computer. Is it? If it isn’t, what is it? Why is it called “The Cloud”?

I decided to ask Alexa, she replied: “"The Cloud" generally refers to the idea of "Cloud Computing." With cloud computing, software and services run on shared computers that can be accessed over the Internet, rather than running on your own computer or device.”

That sort of confirms that “The Cloud” is just someone else’s computer. However, it isn’t just someONE else’s computer, it is someMANY else’s computer. That worries me. A previous blog post of mine alludes to what I don’t like about shared computing - https://www.webnetism.com/blog/tech/hosting-solutions.

WikiPedia says that “Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage (cloud storage) and computing power, without direct active management by the user. The term is generally used to describe data centers available to many users over the Internet. Large clouds, predominant today, often have functions distributed over multiple locations from central servers. If the connection to the user is relatively close, it may be designated an edge server.” You can read more here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing

This tells me that it that “The Cloud” is an on-demand service that you can use for storing data or processing data. The end user doesn’t have to manage the computer itself.

One of the key advantages of “The Cloud” is that it is a bit like a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. If it isn’t used much then it doesn’t cost much.

The cloud at Christmas

If your website was selling Christmas Cards (you have prepared for Christmas, haven’t you? https://www.webnetism.com/blog/marketing/planning-for-next-christmas) you would expect very little traffic to your website from January – November and so you wouldn’t want it to cost you much. Then in December everyone wants a picture of a robin in some snow with some glitter on it to send to people that they otherwise don’t keep in contact with… your website gets 100x or 1000x the traffic. “The Cloud” can give your website more resources (in terms of CPU, RAM, etc.) to keep it working well (as long as your website is designed to work in this environment). Guess what? EveryMANY else’s website will need more resources too. You might not get what you need.

Just like pay-as-you-go mobile phone, the more it is used (or more resources it has) the more expensive it becomes. And just like a pay-as-you-go mobile phone it becomes more expensive than a contract mobile phone to run. One month it could cost you a small amount of operation expenditure and the next month it could be 100 times that or 1000 times that. My experience with Finance people is that they like their operational costs to be predictable. If you have your own equipment it is a relatively stable monthly cost.

Of course, if you have your own equipment you have to manage it. That’s expensive as well. A 24-hour IT Manager is expensive and drinks a lot of coffee and eats endless packets of custard creams. You do, however, get to choose the hardware, software and, perhaps most importantly, the IT Manager. With a “The Cloud” provider you don’t really have those choices. If “The Cloud” goes down then who do you speak to?

That last sentence might surprise you. Yes, “The Cloud” goes down. When the big providers fail it makes the news https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30111575 and they are managed by soft squishy things that make mistakes – essentially IT Managers that can press big buttons https://www.theregister.com/2020/04/08/azure_devops_outage/

At the time of writing, Microsoft Azure is all green ticks (https://status.azure.com/en-gb/status) and Amazon Web Services is all green ticks too (https://status.aws.amazon.com/). Google Cloud (https://status.cloud.google.com/) is all green and so is Apple Cloud (https://www.apple.com/uk/support/systemstatus/). Other “The Cloud” providers are available. Sometimes those green ticks turn to angry red crosses. Any “The Cloud” provider should provide a status history so you can see what sort of problems they have had recently.

If it is your equipment failing then you can at least speak to your IT Manager to find out what is happening and ensure that everything else is being put to one side – even custard creams. Try making your website a priority to Amazon. Your website may not be working but there are 100s or 1000s of other websites affected too.

If you take anything from reading this, take this: If you do use a “The Cloud” provider please make sure that you use a different “The Cloud” provider to monitor your website. If Amazon Web Services is down and you are using Amazon Web Services to monitor your website then you probably haven’t been alerted that it is down.

Back to the original question: Is “The Cloud” just someone else’s computer?

I think I have to conclude that it is but it is many computers/data centres/networks managed by many people. They are looked after extremely well but they do go wrong. When they do it is bad for a lot of people.

Perhaps what you need is some sort of middle ground? YOUR computer that is looked after by someone else, who you can meet up with in person, for a monthly fee.  YOUR computer that is powerful enough to cope with your website’s biggest demand. YOUR computer, that once all is said and done, is YOUR computer.

I think that’s our cue.

It sounds like I am anti-“The Cloud”. I’m not. Do I use “The Cloud”? Yes, daily, many times each day. Like anyone who uses any sort of technology today, my life is in “The Cloud”. This document (while I was writing it) was stored on my corporate OneDrive. I’ve already asked Alexa what day it is several times today. Yesterday, I bought something from Amazon. My photos are on my personal OneDrive (and Google Photos). Here at Webnetism we run our projects on a “The Cloud” instance of Jira.

Why is it called “The Cloud”? I am not totally sure but I think it has something to do with old data flow diagrams that have a cloud in them. These represent some sort of magical network that never goes wrong to provide connectivity between systems.

Either that or “The Cloud” is something to spoil a nice summer’s day and I’ve totally misunderstood.

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