Get your head into the Cloud
ApplicantStack is a cloud computing application. ‘Cloud computing’: most of us have heard the term; maybe even used it. Do we know what it means?
Actually, it is a semi-technical term meaning that the internet is ‘like’ a cloud. A real cloud is zillions of tiny raindrops caught up in turbulent, swirling winds, going first this direction, then that direction. Together these raindrops on their chaotic paths obscure our vision and form what we see as a cloud.
That’s the way the internet looks to a computer engineer. On the internet the ‘droplets’ are called packets and they appear to travel in chaotic fashion, much like the rain droplets, along with billions of other packets swirling in an electromagnetic wind.
Beyond that, the analogy breaks down. We never know where raindrops are going to land. Packets have an assigned destination. Packets are guided to their destinations but not necessarily the way most would think. Packets rarely take the shortest route. Depending on traffic conditions, broken down or out of service equipment, or other issues, they may travel thousands of miles out of their way.
Their pathways can be tracked. Let’s say I am in Atlanta and connected to a website in Boston. It would not surprise me to find that my connection passes through places like Chicago, Denver, Phoenix or other far away locations. The internet is not concerned with sending my signal packets on the most direct route because packets travel at the speed of light which is 186,000 miles per second. Yes that’s PER SECOND. At that speed, a few thousand extra miles here, a few thousand extra miles there; who will notice?
Cloud computing has a number of advantages and a few disadvantages which we will discuss later. First lets talk about a major advantage of cloud computing: efficient use of resources.
Another term most of us have become familiar with is VOIP. VOIP(Voice Over Internet Protocol, like Vonage, Skype, cable phone service etc) is making a telephone call using the cloud. Let’s compare this with making a land line, or conventional, telephone call.
Again, I imagine I am in Atlanta making a land line call to Boston. When I do this, I get a direct connection to Boston. This connection may pass through many switches but ultimately, I end up with the equivalent of a continuous wire running from Atlanta to Boston devoted exclusively to my phone call.
When I think of one of my phone conversations, I realize I don’t talk all the time. I may be asked a question and have to pause to think of an answer. Someone may ring my doorbell and I have to put the phone down and go to the door. There may be any number or short or long breaks in the conversations because that is the way most conversations go. During those breaks the phone line is left with nothing to do.
I may not be using it much but as long as I am connected, that direct line between Atlanta and Boston is mine, all mine, and dedicated to my conversation.
On a VOIP call, packets are sent between Atlanta and Boston ‘in the cloud’. This means that the same wire or cable that connects me to Boston also connects perhaps hundreds of people in Atlanta to hundreds of people in Boston. My voice is sent as packets and these packets are identified as mine and their destination is the person in Boston. All packets are that way. So all these thousands, millions, or billions of packets can use the same cable because the internet equipment can, it seems like magically, figure out which are mine and which are theirs and where the various packets have to end up. With VOIP, hundreds of calls are made using the same resources it takes to make a single land line call.
That’s why internet phone calls are cheap, or even free.
Going back to the real cloud, we don’t see the droplets, we see the result of the droplets; which is the cotton-like thing floating in the sky. On the internet, we don’t see the packets, we see the results of the packets in the form of a phone call, an email, a web site, or a movie. From that perspective it is not hard to see why computer engineers envision the internet as a cloud.
In a future article I will discuss the implications of the cloud, and cloud computing, for individuals and businesses.