In part one we looked at the Cloud as a data repository, in this article we will explore another use for the cloud.

The concept of using the Cloud as an engine has been gaining traction for several years. In its most simplistic to understand form, it is the cloud that performs the number crunching rather than the computer on your desk.

Once again a brief dip into the history of the modern computer reveals that this is hardly a new concept. My first exposure to the cloud as the engine was in the early 1970’s. The Cloud was an IBM 360 series mainframe, and my local ‘computer’ was an ASR 33 Teletype. By the end of the decade the Teletypes had been replaced by CRT technology. Likely the best well known IBM device ever built was the 3270 dumb terminal. It was however the real beginnings of our modern view of Cloud Computing. The data and processing power was remote from the device, the 3270’s mission was merely to act as a ‘screen formatting’ agent.

If we fast forward 30 years to today, we start to see history repeating itself. More and more, the Cloud as the engine is becoming the mantra. The Cloud does the heavy lifting, and the local computer handles the relatively light problem of displaying the results.

From the very inception of the World Wide Web the Cloud has been an engine, what is changing is the extent to how that engine is being used. In the early days of the the Web the engine had little to do, merely handle data look up as people clicked on HTML links.

As the WEB gained popularity so did the complexity of what a web site was capable of. A new term was added to the growing list of Internet Speak, the Web App, or Web Application. This essentially was a program that could be run on the Cloud computer at the request of the Internet User. The early Web App’s were very simple affairs. Tasks such as converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, or Pounds to Kilograms.

But, there was a problem looming. As the number of concurrent users increased so did the stress and strain on the Cloud Computer. The battle of Centralization vs Decentralization reared it’s ugly head once again. Anyone who has been involved in the Computer industry, or read the history of it will be familiar with this cyclic shift.

The solution this time was Decentralization, move the processing from the Cloud computer to the box on the users desk. A technical definition of this phenomenon is Client Side computing as opposed to Server Side.

To achieve this Client Side ability there had to be some significant changes made. One of the fundamental problems is that there are different types of computers. A program designed for Windows will not run on an Apple, nor one running Linux. The solution was to invent a universal translator. It became known as the Java Virtual Machine. So Problem solved, right?


JVM is fine for simple tasks, but is not as efficient as executing a program specifically designed for one platform. I will not bore you with the technical reasons, you will just have to take my word for it.

The computer hardware industry is one that grows in leaps and bounds. At the heart of the innovation is something called ‘Moore’s Law’, First proposed in the early 1960’s is states that silicone technology will advance so that every 18 months the number of components on a fixed size silicone wafer will double. The components will be more densely packed and the components themselves will shrink in size. In layman’s terms this translates to computers doubling in speed every 18 months.

It is interesting to note that while the business end of a hard drive is not silicon based, they have very much followed almost the same growth curve.

Moore’s Law also has an economic impact, you could almost say Moore for less! Component and storage prices drop while capacity increases.

This has not gone unnoticed by The Cloud designers. Processing power and storage is so cheap that once again it is viable to centralize. No better example of this can be found than Google’s Gmail service. It is free to use, and each account comes with a gut busting 7.5 Gigabytes of storage. 10 years ago a 7.5 gig hard drive was the largest storage device on the market and retailed for several hundred dollars.

It is the same situation with processors, they have become so cheap that they have found their way into a huge number of household appliances and electronics, cell phones, microwave ovens, TV’s even the lowly alarm clock

Once more we are seeing a swing back to increased use of the cloud as an engine.

There is little doubt that one of the most innovative ideas is one that comes from AMD, the Fusion Render Cloud. My good friend Charlie Boswell, the Director of Digital Media for AMD  shared a few details about this product in early 2009. This article, and interview might give some insights.

The cloud as the engine is the way the industry is headed!

I was talking to Charlie Boswell recently, make sure that your seats and tray tables are in the upright and locked position, put your hard hats on, and wearing bullet proof underwear, the Bos is about to speak! He is hot on the cloud as an engine concept. I am hoping that the Bos will select BNN as the jump off site for this new, and very exciting next step in Cloud Computing.

Simon Barrett

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