Cloud Computing: buzz word of 2009, and apparently going to be the buzz word of 2010 too.
This year, Netflix made what looked like a peculiar choice: the DVD-by-mail company decided that over the next two years, it would move most of its Web technology — customer movie queues, search tools and the like — over to the computer servers of one of its chief rivals, Amazon.com.
Amazon, like Netflix, wants to deliver movies to people’s homes over the Internet. But the online retailer, based in Seattle, has lately gained traction with a considerably more ambitious effort: the business of renting other companies the remote use of its technology infrastructure so they can run their computer operations. In the parlance of technophiles, they would operate “in the cloud.”
Ah, the cloud — these days, Silicon Valley can’t seem to get its head out of it. The idea, though typically expressed in ways larded with jargon, is actually rather simple.
Cloud providers, large ones like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and AT&T, and smaller ones like Rackspace and Terremark, aim to convince other companies to give up building and managing their own data centers and to use their computer capacity instead.
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I actually do see the usefulness of cautiously outsourcing the creation and maintenance of data centers, as long as certain privacy oversights are part of the process.
Almost every big company is cautiously testing the waters these days. 3M, the St. Paul, Minn., conglomerate, is using Microsoft’s new Azure cloud service to allow advertisers and marketers to tap into a service that mathematically analyzes promotional images and evaluates how visually effective they are likely to be. “It took a lot of the risk out of whether to commercialize it or not,” said Jim Graham, a technical manager at 3M.
But most big organizations say they are wary of placing more critical software and business operations on another company’s computers.
Government agencies are looking at it too. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab currently runs various experiments on the computers of Amazon, Microsoft and Google — to avoid committing to a single company, said Tomas Soderstrom, the I.T. chief technology officer there. Among other experiments, the agency is using Amazon’s servers to process vast amounts of telemetry data coming from the rovers on Mars.
But NASA executives also tell of the seven months it took to reach its licensing agreement with Amazon. NASA wanted, among other things, to be able to inspect the hardware it was using; Amazon declined.