Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why Cloud Computing is a Big Deal

Another day at RootsTech, and today I want to focus on cloud computing and how it is fundamentally changing the Internet. So what is cloud computing? It is the ability to store information in a large collection of servers on the Internet, so it is always available whenever you need it. Josh Coates gave a great definition of what this means for a developer in his keynote address yesterday:

  • the illusion of infinite resources,
  • no up front commitment, and
  • pay as you go.
You use cloud computing when you create a Google document, access your genealogy at, or backup your data with Mozy.

If you are creating a new online service, like the Twenty Minute Genealogist project I'm a part of, then cloud computing lets you flexibly handle load as you grow from hundreds to thousands to millions of users. This means that if you have a small business you are starting, you don't have to build the same infrastructure as Google or Amazon. You can instead use Google App Engine or Amazon EC2 and let them handle the details of running a large number of servers, storing data, and serving it to a large number of users.

Back to the list Josh Coates made. You have the illusion of infinite resources, because you can add more any time you want and your application automatically uses them. Want to store an exabyte of information? No problem. Want to handle the same load as CNN. You got it. Of course, you have to pay for this service. But there are no up front fees, you pay as you go, and you can decide how many resources to add (and thus how much to pay) as demand increases.

In a lunch meeting today, showed how they use Amazon to store very large images of things like census records. Their software pulls images out of Amazon's cloud on demand as users request them, while they search through their genealogy. This service is called Big Picture, and they are open to allowing other sites use their service too.

A new company called Real-Time Collaboration was in the Exhibit Hall announcing their new cloud apps. They will have Ancestor Sync to synchronize your ancestors between your desktop (e.g. Rootsmagic) and the cloud (e.g. They will also have Research Trails to store all your research notes and source documents in the cloud.

So, what would you do with unlimited memory, processing power, bandwidth, and users?

We are in a very exciting period of history. The web and blogging let anyone be a publisher to a worldwide audience. Now cloud computing lets anyone be a worldwide business.