Why Cloud Computing may be just a fad?
Cloud computing refers to a computing paradigm which involves a "thin client" and a "cloud" whereas a thin client acts merely as an access point to content and applications within the "cloud" representing numerous Internet servers.
In a perfect cloud computing set up you have a laptop or a netbook with an operating system containing just the software needed to get you online and run applications and content from the web. We're rapidly approaching the point at which one could live his or her digital life completely online, having no other infrastructure at home other than a laptop and a internet connection.
A laptop could run Chrome OS which is essentially just a browser optimized to run many web applications which can do everything from photo, video and audio editing to writing, email and multimedia playback. If you want to watch movies you stream them from something like Netflix. If you want to listen to the music you stream it from something like last.fm, many Internet radio stations or some dedicated music store where you buy music and instead of downloading them just stream them online. If you want to play games you use a service like OnLive which does all its game processing in the "cloud" and just streams you the HD video.
A lot of people are saying that "cloud computing is the future", but I would say that cloud computing is pretty much already the present. You can already have the above with some notable exceptions such as OnLive which are just about to come, today. The fact that the "cloud computing is the future" meme is already so widespread also indicates that it's already here and not just something we're heading towards.
I suppose what is meant by that statement though is a world in which the above pure cloud computing set up is the norm, where most people already live 100% or nearly 100% of their digital lives online from work to entertainment. It may also be that the whole cloud computing concept is seen as something futuristic and cool enough to seem as if this has got to be what the future looks like.
But I don't think so. It's actually rather interesting how the computing paradigms have evolved ever since the information age started. We already, in a sense, were through a "cloud computing" stage where thin clients called terminals were used to access programs and data within the "cloud" called mainframe computers.
Then miniaturization allowed the two to be merged into relatively small computers that had the power of the mainframe built right in. And then the Internet came which begun to reestablish the client-server relationship, involving home computer users as they used the browser, a client, to access content remotely. Web 2.0 in a sense "upgraded" this by also seeing the emergence of full scale applications and interactivity served up by the server to the client. Cloud computing comes as the extreme variation of that whereas the server essentially becomes everything your home computer used to be and your computer becomes what old terminals were.
So we went back and forth. Classical "cloud computing" in form of terminals and mainframes, then offline all-in-one computing before and during the early Internet and now back to a new style of cloud computing between thin clients and the internet. So in a sense it's not such a new concept. It's just that its implications today are far greater given that computers and the Internet are so greatly interwoven in modern life styles.
So why do I think cloud computing may be just a fad? Well, to most people it is "new" and exciting. They see the convenience that comes from having somebody or something else take care of all the work that has to be done before they get the desired result. With cloud computing you don't have to worry about disk space, about installing and setting up the right software, about organizing data and so on. All of this is done in the cloud for you. You just get to consume the final result. This immediate appeal, I think, drives this initial excitement over cloud computing which feeds the perception of it as the "next level", as the only paradigm that will be followed in the future.
But I think once heads cool down and the trade offs are considered it will be clear that cloud computing isn't THE future, but merely a part of it. It will play a complementary role, but would not entirely replace the now traditional way of computing. Instead I think traditional computing will receive a major upgrade.
What if you get most if not all of the benefits of cloud computing without the cloud? Think of the advances in storage technology for example. We will soon have SSD chips the size of a postage stamp which can store 1TB of data (that's 1024GB). With that in your computer why would you worry about having to store your own data, including automated redundancy backups (another possible benefit of cloud computing)?
Then consider the advances in available bandwidth which may be seen as a boon to cloud computing. The fact is, it is also a boon to traditional computing. For example, a selling point of cloud gaming (OnLive) is not having to download all those gigabytes of games. However if your connection becomes faster and cheaper then it wont take you as much time to do the download.
Then think of the processing power. As it advances the benefits of cloud computing begin to diminish. If you can easily afford a computer that can play latest video games and run most demanding applications with breeze why bother trusting some cloud operator with your data, applications and games?
If you're able to have a supercomputer in your home or even your pocket why outsource supercomputing to someone else and even end up paying for this "service" on a regular basis indefinitely?
Perhaps the best model for the future is a hybrid. Always on networking can be used to aid in management of data and applications that is stored on your own devices, but it is still under your control. Lastpass.com is a good example of that. It is a password management service that doesn't actually store and process passwords on their own servers. That happens on your computer and they only store the encrypted versions which are useless without your computer. You have a pass phrase which you enter to decrypt the data on your own computer and which is never sent to their servers.
I think the current craze is just a craze. To think that cloud computing alone is what we're heading to is to go to an extreme. It is a bit like discovering that proverbial hammer and then seeing every problem as a nail.
Sooner or later I think it will be realized that the future is probably somewhere in the middle. Technological advancements will remove a lot of the inconvenience of holding to your own home and mobile infrastructure and therefore reduce the need for cloud computing, and otherwise the two may complement each other taking the best of both worlds. However total reliance on the cloud for absolutely everything is probably neither a good idea nor what most people will prefer given continued technological evolution.