More Reflections on the Cloud
Cloud computing, the latest and greatest trend of the IT world, has become a central element of Ubuntu’s server strategy. With this development in mind, I’ve given some thought lately to how much of my electronic life actually depends on access to “the cloud.”
Although cloud computing remains a somewhat ambiguous concept, most definitions center around the consolidation of services and resources into centralized servers, which then deliver those services over the network. This architecture provides greater scalability and cost efficiency than most traditional computing models, which focus on distributing workloads across individual workstations, which leads to redundancy and management difficulties.
As Canonical server product manager Nick Barcet wrote on WorksWithU last week, support for cloud computing has been a major focus in Ubuntu server edition starting with version 9.04, which introduced Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud, and continuing with the upcoming 9.10 release. Ubuntu’s cloud strategy focuses on making it easy for users to shift their computing needs into KVM-based virtual machines that can be scaled to meet the task at hand.
My life in the cloud
I’m an individual, not an enterprise, so the benefits offered to me by cloud computing may not align precisely with those of Ubuntu server edition’s target user base. Nonetheless, I’ve grown highly dependent in the last few years on services that fall within the realm of cloud-based computing, for instance:
- Email: although I still use the desktop client Evolution to manage my mail, I stopped copying messages to local disk long ago, and now count on the cloud for accessing all of my communications. As far as email goes, the workstation no longer matters.
- Personal organization: I use a personal wiki running on a Web server to manage a wide range of professional and academic information. The wiki has replaced notes I used to take by hand or on local machines, and its existence in the cloud, where it’s always accessible to me no matter which computer I happen to be working from, is an important element in its utility.
- Remote desktop: I’ve recently begun experiments in sharing Gnome sessions over the network via the XDMCP protocol in order both to consolidate my data and make more efficient use of old computers. Because of bandwidth limitations and security issues, XDMCP is only practical within a private network, but I’d love to find ways to use it or something similar on a larger scale, and the potential for doing so exists in the cloud.
- Compiling: compiling code can take a long time, especially when the compiler is competing for resources with bulky desktop applications, or gets interrupted when the machine is suspended. Having access to computers in the cloud allows me to perform resource-intensive tasks in an efficient environment and without their getting in the way of my ordinary tasks.
I don’t think my experience with cloud computing is very unique, and its growing importance in the lives of ordinary computer users as well as enterprises highlights the potential that the cloud represents for Ubuntu and other Linux distributions. By making it easy to turn an Ubuntu server into a cloud host and offer the kind of consumer-oriented services described above, Canonical is making a wise investment in an emerging market.