iSGTW Feature - Grids and Clouds AAAS

Opinion - Will there be a cloud of clouds?

Will the future see all things electronic in the cloud? Will it be the platform for turning on the lights, downloading photos, and checking on your dog?
Image courtesy of Michael Nelson.

The introduction of the World Wide Web in the early 1990's revolutionized communication and information sharing. But the Internet revolution is just beginning. The next few years will define the next generation of the Internet as it becomes a platform for computing with the cloud.

"We are in a critical and exciting phase in computing development," said Michael Nelson, an Internet studies visiting professor at Georgetown University, speaking at the 2009 AAAS conference in Chicago.

"When the Web first came out, we had the core technologies and knew what they could do, but really didn't have a sense of all the ways they would be used," Nelson said. "Likewise today, we're laying the foundation for the cloud, with the grid as a prototype."

Nelson defined three phases of computing. In the first phase, software applications and data resided on the user's local computer. The same was true in phase two - the Web -but in addition, a browser allowed access to data anywhere on the Web. In phase three - the cloud - data and applications are hosted on remote machines available online, not locally - a fundamental shift in the way computing is done.

Michael Nelson, Georgetown University

Image courtesy IBM.

Nelson predicts that in the next five to ten years, more than 80 percent of all computing and data storage could be done in the cloud, with more than 100 billion devices connected. He also expects the amount of data flowing through the Internet to increase by a factor of 50 to 100.

Several key issues remain, however. Cloud providers must agree on standards, governments must adopt new technology, and most importantly, security and privacy issues must be addressed so that users feel comfortable trusting the cloud.

Nelson postulated three possible future cloud scenarios. In the first, an outcome with limited opportunities, many distinct, proprietary clouds exist with different standards. He equated this with the current status of the grid and cloud. In the second, slightly better, scenario, different clouds still don't interoperate, but are connected to enable data to move back and forth. The third, and in his opinion ideal, scenario is a cloud of clouds, like the Internet's network of networks, where all pieces are tied together with common software and interoperate seamlessly.

"The cloud will provide much more flexibility and collaboration," Nelson said. "Users will be able to combine different services and data sets inside the cloud in new and exciting ways that can provide customized service and offer new ways to analyze the world around us."

-Amelia Williamson, for iSGTW

Michael R. Nelson spoke at the AAAS 2009 session "The Grid, the Cloud, Sensor Nets, and the Future of Computing".