Friday, June 20, 2008

Web Server as the smallest unit of Cloud Computing

To demystify the concept of cloud computing, I would like to assert that a web server is the smallest unit of functionality that still has all the attributes of cloud computing. Web servers with a little bit of CGI or CFL scripts or Java Applets would constitute convergence of information, universal access by your CAVE, display wall, desktop, laptop, MID (mobile internet device), or smartphone, and a little bit of computing even though the computing may be limited to just page construction.

The data managed by the web server is the source of differentiation. As a user I am looking for valuable or entertaining information. And I am willing to part with money, or time, to find it. This is the driving force behind any business value proposition for cloud computing. Interestingly enough, due to the vast alternatives available, price elasticity is extraordinarely discrete: we are willing to consume indiscriminately if it is free, but if we need to part with money it suddenly becomes a more emotional/rational activity. This explains the popularity of services supported by advertising: human beings are willing to tolerate some degree of SPAM as long as it allows them to consume other information for free.

The consumption of information requires some client device and clearly there are some computes taking place in the client as well. For example, watching a YouTube clip on your smartphone requires some decent performance to decompress and decode the video stream. Universal information convergence is therefore not possible in my mind. The characteristics and usage models of a CAVE are fundamentally different from the characteristics and usage models of a smartphone. There is nothing that can chance that. The clouds that serve up the converged information will therefore have to make a selection of the clients that are appropriate for its information consumption.

What is interesting to me is that the original World Wide Web vision of Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee is effectively cloud computing. Universal access of information among geographically dispersed teams was the impetus to the wold wide web. Driven by business, we are now getting to a vocabulary that places that concept into the consumer space. Continued innovation by businesses to generate and extract value will push more and more computing behind the generation of information, Concurrently, the marketing departments will continue to obfuscate what is fundamentally a very easy to understand and desirable concept: a flat and universally accessable information world.

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