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Companies like HP, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft offer products that either directly involve cloud computing services or rely on them in some way. Amazon, the online retail giant, has a thriving cloud storage business. That doesn’t mean Amazon has a warehouse filled with fluffy, white clouds. It means the company rents out storage space within its massive data centers. If you are running a company that wants to offer a Web site or service to customers, you may consider using a company like Amazon to host your data.

So what is cloud computing. We went to Curiosity.discovery.com to find out. Here is just the beginning of their explanation.

What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing uses the Internet to process and store data, functions normally performed on your desktop computer. With cloud computing, you could perform these functions over the Internet instead. In such a scenario, a Web-based application developed with technology like Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Flash would enable Web browsers to act much like computer operating systems do today.

What are the benefits of cloud computing?
Off-site data storage and remote processing, or cloud computing, offers many benefits. Being able to draw from a powerful network can increase productivity and save money in many computer-based businesses. Users can also engage in online collaboration by editing documents simultaneously.

What are the different types of clouds?
Clouds are the stuff of song, romance, stormy weather prediction and dreamy kids lying on their backs in the grass. To some, they represent lofty goals and great exploration and to others, a gateway to heaven. We point out shapes in them, track their movements and photograph the colors they reflect.

What are some features of a cloud computer?
Cloud computers – meaning simple, inexpensive devices that would leverage the power of remote supercomputers for most or all of their computing needs – would have a number of attractive features, including price. The cloud computer would be inexpensive to purchase and applications would be free, so it should appeal to a wide range of users.

The cloud computer would be easy to maintain and update. Because there wouldn’t be an optical or hard drive, there would be very few parts to wear out. Everything would be updated on the cloud, so the user wouldn’t have to worry about software upgrades or changes.

The cloud computer would be more eco-friendly than a traditional computer, with fewer disposable parts to crowd landfills. The computer would contain flash memory and a low-power chip that would save energy.

Who offers cloud computing services?
Many technology enthusiasts were eager a few years ago for the release of consumer cloud computing, which would be a streamlined, highly affordable way to use a remote supercomputer for most storage and computing tasks. What was once a hotly debated future solution now is an accepted technology among many savvy information technology (IT) professionals.

Google certainly has been a leader in the cloud computing boom with its Google Apps Marketplace. With the help of numerous third-party software companies, there are now 200 apps and about 4 million users accessing its cloud computing service [source: Williams]. Many of the new and future cloud computing users are companies choosing to outsource some of their IT services and storage needs. Others are consumers wanting to safely and effectively store and maybe share documents, photos or music.

For example, e-commerce leader Amazon pioneered cloud computing with Amazon Web Services that range from unlimited music storage for home-based computer users to more complex Virtual Private Clouds that help companies with multiple branches network their files and apps [source: Gohring]. There are lots of smaller and lesser known companies offering cloud computing services, too. Some of them offer niche services, such as consulting or gateways. Prolexic Technologies provides cloud-based technology to help defend against possible denial of service attacks [source: Roman]. Developers are on the bandwagon, even using services like OpenStack to develop apps in an open community environment. OpenStack was built by Rackspace and NASA. Microsoft also has joined the mix with Azure [source: Williams].

As a new service, cloud computing will be in flux for some time, but there is no shortage of innovation or options. As of January 2011, at least 90 companies were offering notable cloud computing services [source: DaPena]. More already were in the mix or working on joining the cloud computing bandwagon. No matter who offers the services, it’s apparent that cloud computing is big business. According to technology research firm Gartner, cloud computing services could bring in more than $148 billion around the world in 2014 [source: Burke].

What are some of the potential problems with cloud computing?
Answered by Paul Saffo and HowStuffWorks

. . .  it also probably means that the age of being able to watch stuff for free on the Internet, or to even have the information stored locally in your hot little hand, will disappear.

Apple users are already beginning to get a taste of it. Apple iTunes is a very mixed gift. Sure, it delivers wonderful convenience, but the age of being able to have your own music on a piece of media that you store and control is going to disappear. Today, if your music is on iTunes, if Steve Jobs changes his mind about the commercial relationship, he can make it all go away, and you can’t keep it.

The Kindle is a cloud device. The Kindle, in fact, is the first consumer cloud device that most people are experiencing. It’s a great convenience. If you lose your Kindle and you tell Amazon, they’ll send you a new one and it has all your books on it, just like before, because your books really aren’t on the Kindle, your books are stored in the cloud.

The downside is that Jeff Bezos knows more about your reading habits that anyone in human history has ever known. He doesn’t just know what book you bought, he knows how much time you spent on a particular page or how much time you spent on a particular paragraph you highlighted.

So the Internet is going to dig itself deeper into the nervous system of the planet, and it’s going to become much more sophisticated. But the real danger is the stuff we’re doing to change the Internet to make that possible is also going to make it easier for people to try and control it.

For more information on Cloud Computing and “just about anything else” visit: Curiosity|
Discovery’s Curiosity.com explores life’s most fascinating mysteries. Log on to Curiosity.com to uncover all the answers to your biggest questions.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 11:25 am and is filed under Longwoods Online.