The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy: A New Age of More Flexible, Less Expensive, and More Secure Computing Will Emerge Soon If Governments Act Wisely
Nelson, Michael R., Issues in Science and Technology
The Internet is entering a new phase that represents a fundamental shift in how computing is done. This phase, called Cloud computing, includes activities such as Web 2.0, Web services, the Grid, and Software as a Service, which are enabling users to tap data and software residing on the Internet rather than on a personal computer or a local server. Some leading technologists have forecast that within 5 to 10 years, 80% or even 90% of the worlds computing and data storage will occur "in the Cloud."
Although the move toward the Cloud is clear, the shape of the Cloud--its technical, legal, economic, and security details--is not. Public policy decisions will be critical in determining the pace of development as well as the characteristics of the Cloud.
The evolution of personal computing has occurred in three distinct phases. In phase 1, computers were standalone devices in which software and data were stored; typical applications were word processing and spread sheets. Phase 2 was marked by the emergence of the World Wide Web, which made it possible to access a wealth of data on the Internet, even though most users still relied on software that ran on individual machines; the quintessential application was the Web browser. In phase 3, most software as well as data will reside on the Internet; a wide variety of applications will proliferate because users will no longer have to install applications software on their machines.
Most of the work we do with computers is still done using phase 1 or phase 2 tools, but more and more people, especially among the younger generation, are starting to take advantage of the power of the Cloud, which offers:
* Limitless flexibility. By being able to use millions of different pieces of software and databases and combine them into customized services, users will be better able to find the answers they need, share their ideas, and enjoy online games, video, and virtual worlds.
* Better reliability and security. No longer will users need to worry about the hard drive on their computers crashing or their laptops being stolen.
* Enhanced collaboration. By enabling online sharing of information and applications, the Cloud provides new ways for working (and playing) together.
* Portability. The ability of users to access the data and tools they need anywhere they can connect to the Internet.
* Simpler devices. Since both their data and the software they use are in the Cloud, users don't need a powerful computer to use it. A cell phone, a PDA, a personal video recorder, an online game console, their cars, even sensors built into their clothing could be their interface.
Cloud computing has the potential to reduce the cost and complexity of doing both routine computing tasks and computationally intensive research problems. By providing far more computing power at lower cost, Cloud computing could enable researchers to tackle hitherto impossible challenges in genome research, environmental modeling, analysis of living systems, and dozens of other fields. Furthermore, by enabling large distributed research teams to more effectively share data and computing resources, Cloud computing will facilitate the kind of multidisciplinary research needed to better understand ecosystems, global climate change, ocean currents, and other complex phenomena.
Combining the power of Cloud computing with data collected by thousands or even millions of inexpensive networked sensors will give scientists new and exciting ways to track how our planet and its ecosystems are changing. At the same time, such sensor nets will give entrepreneurs new ways to provide new services, ranging from traffic monitoring to tracking livestock to improving surveillance on the battlefield or in high-crime neighborhoods.
The government role
The pace of development and deployment of the Cloud will depend on many different factors, including how quickly the basic technology matures, how quickly the computer and telecommunications industries agrees on standards, how aggressively companies invest in the needed infrastructure, how many cost-effective, compelling applications are developed, and how quickly potential users accept and adopt this new way of purchasing computing resources. …