By now you must have heard of the buzz labeled as cloud computing. The basics of the cloud are still unknown by many designers, but it’s not difficult. A general cloud setup may contain a large server farm which connects as one central “storage” or “cloud computer” hub. Web hosts have begun offering cloud packages where you only pay for the bandwidth and storage space you use.
These businesses have been on the curve of an emerging trend over just the past few years. Web designers are beginning to take notice (and certainly better late than never). In this article it’s my goal to go over some of the newest apps and tools utilized within the cloud. If you can adapt your workflow to fit within the cloud hierarchy you may find workflow is a lot easier to deal with.
Sharing Files and Data
USB drives were all the rage back in early 2000. And even today the physical USB format hasn’t completely been driven out of fashion. However the methods of transporting data from one location to another have dramatically improved. The most popular Internet apps include Pando and Dropbox, among a few other gems.
Both of these companies offer a free and paid account for new users. You are basically setup with a free chunk of cloud hosting which you can access similar to FTP. It’s a breeze to copy, move, and delete files from within your account. You can also share certain files or folders with friends and between different computers.
However my personal favorite is CloudApp which has always been so clean compared to other competition. The developer has created a native OS X app for Mac users to make things even easier. The free account is perfect for storing .zip archives, small images, music, or other digital knick-knacks of your choosing. Each file is also keyed into the database with a unique short URL such as http://cl.ly/B0Kd which makes sharing 10x easier!
Mac OS X and iCloud
The revolutionary WWDC 2011 keynote given by Steve Jobs addressed some of the more interesting aspects of a technology dubbed iCloud. It was just released to the public around mid-October and has some really amazing features tied into the idea of cloud computing. Note that only Mac OS X Lion users will have the setup process available.
But once you sign up iCloud.com will become your go-to web application for all synced data. This includes your contacts list, calendar, text messages, photos, and even your own custom @me.com e-mail address. Apple is offering each user a free 5GB of storage within the cloud on their own servers – a very luxurious deal for $0 charge!
The iCloud service will also sync with any iOS devices such as your iPhone or iPad/iPod Touch. Although this service is brand new you can see how new ideas are beginning to emerge within Apple’s fan base.
Unfortunately Windows and Linux users aren’t able to utilize these same features. But the brilliance of web design in general is how simple it can be to create such a service. PHP/MySQL or RoR is easily enough to program your own cloud-based storage and e-mail client, assuming you’ve got the time. To learn more about iCloud check out our recent review article written just this past summer of 2011.
Web Servers and Storage Services
Certainly the ability to juggle file sharing and storage within the cloud is very useful. But what about hosting your entire website and database within the cloud? This could revolutionize the entire job of a webmaster in just a few short years!
Amazon Simple Storage Service or Amazon S3 is one such beautiful innovation. It can take a lot of server load time to constantly push images to the many users requesting your page. Amazon Web Services offer an alternative where the content is moved off your own local server and run through Amazon. You only pay for the data used each month and you aren’t locked into any set rates.
This means the whole cloud-based application is extremely scalable with the addition of more servers over time. You’re also a lot less likely to run into downtime as AWS features parity duplicate data for all server hard drives. Even if your web traffic shoots up from 20k/month to 2MM/month Amazon S3 will have no problem scaling and adapting to fit the environment.
I know the cloud hosting can become a tad confusing when you look over these concepts. And since there are so many new companies popping up it can be difficult knowing who to trust. I’ve included a small list below of some recommendations to check into for web hosting and storage within the cloud.
Where to Go from Here?
There are constantly new ideas being churned over the water cooler each week. Within due time I’m sure we’ll see even more workflow features moved up within the cloud. As mentioned elsewhere cloud computing and VPS(Virtual Private Servers) differ in the fact that our “cloud” is composed of multiple servers running as one computation device. All VPS setups are a few different accounts running on one(1) physical server.
So as we see more complex cloud setups evolve, what can we expect? I’m thinking a transition of desktop applications to be run in-browser remotely on a cloud server! Can you imagine editing a mockup website layout in Adobe Photoshop’s web app? Or maybe a cloud-based Coda-style text editor for your own web files (which could also include FTP). This may seem like a pipe dream today but it wasn’t so long ago that the idea of a cloud cluster setup seemed preposterous and insanely expensive.
While discussing prices I’m also thinking as the cost of web hosting goes down bandwidth prices will also drop. Fiber-optic networks have made data transfer almost instantaneous to the point where we can already create & edit Word and Excel documents right from within any browser. This means web apps may likely overrun desktop apps and business models which overcharge for these services will begin to fall by the wayside.
These brief ideas should get you thinking about how the cloud is progressing into our everyday lives. I know for a fact I couldn’t get a whole lot done without access to my cloud accounts. And with more advanced hard disks becoming cheaper the cost for web hosting is dropping dramatically. Truly 2011 is not over yet and continues moving towards a fluid cloud-powered future for web designers.