Tornado fighter/bomber over Easter Ross, photo: WebDesignHighlands.co.uk

“The Cloud”

For the last few years, “The Cloud” has been one of the big buzzwords in IT circles and beyond. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and even more marketing-speak, not to mention parodies that have then been taken seriously by marketing…let’s dispel a few myths.

https://xkcd.com/908/

Courtesy the great xkcd, cartoon 908

What The Cloud Is Not

  • Magic.
  • Water vapour.
  • Indestructible.
  • Free (conditions apply).
  • Not computers.
  • The Solution To All Your Problems (probably).

What The Cloud Is

  • Somebody else’s computers.

The Cloud is a variation of the idea that created the internet in the first place (“let’s all share our data!”) and a later idea called The Grid (“let’s all share our processing power!”) with a few tweaks, mostly for commercial interest and practicality. There’s two main technologies behind the idea.

1: In the early days of the internet, people realised that it was convenient and useful to have people make backups of your data. If you’ve been working on a PhD thesis in the UK for two years then emailing a copy to your friend in the US is a really good idea – if your computer blows up, and the university blows up, and the UK is hit by a massive EMP, there’s still a copy of your thesis safely stored off-continent (a principle WDH and our chosen data centre still adhere to.)

2: As computers became more and more powerful, people realised they could simulate a computer inside another computer. The machine I’m typing on runs a version of Linux, but I can, in a window, run an old version of Windows XP if I want to, or Puppy Linux, or even my much loved Atari ST.  My computer simulates the required responses from the hardware, and the operating system in question (XP, Puppy, TOS…) only expects a bunch of ones-and-zeroes going in and out…which it gets.

The upshot is that a computer, and its data, can exist inside another computer. Or multiple other computers, which is essentially what The Cloud is.

Web Design Highlands systems generally run on a “VPS”, a virtual private server. This is just like a normal server, a computer sitting in a data centre, but it exists on lots of computers at once. If one crashes, the others pick up the slack. If I suddenly write a particularly brilliant blog post that attracts millions of readers, it doesn’t fall over, it just asks more computers to help out (and, to be fair, sends me an email warning me I might have to pay a little more if it carries on like this).

It’s a very clever system. But it’s not magic. And if you’re not in the business of writing large-scale computer applications then you should never even notice it exists.