What is Cloud Computing?

Almost everyone knows what a computer is - and most know what a server is… a beefier computer. But what is a Cloud?

Way back when in the days of computing history, computers took up lots of space, like many floors of large buildings. Over time, the size reduced, and so did the complexity to the point where many non-computer scientists could operate them from something called a terminal. A terminal is the word used to describe a means for operating a computer that isn’t physically near you, it’s basically a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, that connects to a computer as far away as the other side of the world. When computers became smaller and smaller, desktop PCs replaced terminals, because for the price, a PC could do so much more.

A server is a powerful PC that runs a specialized operating system (like Windows or Mac OS) and has fast hard drives, memory, and usually multiple processors. Desktop PCs can interact with servers to fetch files, send email, or view websites.

Within the past 10 years, a computer term called “Virtualization” has been being developed. What this means is fairly simple: Virtualization allows an operating system (like windows or red hat) to perform its task within a “Virtual Machine.” Many such virtual machines can run on a server, allowing 1 server to provide a slew of services that would normally cost a lot of money to implement. You could run windows 98 inside of a virtual machine to play old video games, for instance; or test out a brand new operating system without using a CD-ROM drive or reformatting your computer.

Now we get to the fun part: what is Cloud Computing? A cloud server uses a special operating system called a hypervisor (think supervisor, but fast.) This hypervisor allows virtual machines to run directly on the server’s hardware, so called “on the metal” - meaning it is very very fast, nearly as fast as it would be without a virtual machine. When a user needs a server, the hypervisor allocates computer resources to a virtual machine, and then a file that represents a hard disk drive is accessed to allow the virtual machine to start any OS you would like. The hypervisor provides Internet connections to all of the virtual machines it controls, as well as memory and hard drive files.

Why is this important? Because a Cloud Server allows you to harness the power of a large server from your home desktop, cellphone, or netbook, as if you were sitting in front of it. While we all want really fast computers, the cost is prohibitive… or was, until now. A cloud server running windows server 2008 can host hundreds of desktop PCs for file sharing, email, and desktop applications for much than the cost per year of the same physical server hardware. And if you ever need more power, you merely ask the hypervisor to give you more virtual machines, and the hypervisor will direct traffic like an obedient traffic light in and out of your Cloud.

And to bring it full circle… Cloud servers let you use your desktop PC, laptops, cellphones, etc. as a terminal to talk to the server. All your personal computer needs to do is display a picture, all of the work is being done “on the cloud” - meaning fewer energy costs, fewer hardware costs, and best of all, significantly less IT support costs. Consider the help desk a thing of the past!

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