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Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a trend that began in the new millenium whereby computer data and programs began to move from local hard drives (a user's PC) to Internet servers (the "cloud"). This trend has enabled users to lower their own data storage costs and improve their security. This trend has enabled providers to aggregate their user bases on their own servers, and offer solutions more conveniently and reliably.

Extended Definition

Examples of cloud computing today (there are so many today) include Apple's MobileMe and Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Or imagine the change from keeping one's own Quicken data on one's hard drive -- the 1990's model -- vs. having the data resident on Intuit's or the Internet's servers (encrypted for security, of course). If you can picture that -- together with picturing no longer paying for the new version of Quicken every year, but rather getting updates to the program (free or paid) as just new software release versions -- then you are picturing cloud computing.

Cloud computing is widely viewed as the "future" of computing, in which all user data is kept on the Internet (as opposed to one's own PC) and all software programs are run direct from the Internet (as opposed to bought off the shelf).

Case Study: OnLive vs. Traditional Videogaming

But will cloud computing always "work," always be the better model? A very interesting and potentially disruptive cloud-computing initiative is that of OnLive, a new cloud-based model of videogaming. Rather than buy a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, together with purchasing the game discs you put into those machines to play games, OnLive proposes to put all that into the cloud. Instead, OnLive aims to provide the gaming directly on its own servers, so that players only need their own computer, do not need to buy games, and will supposedly enjoy the responsiveness that they've always been used to, via OnLive's cloud-based Internet delivery of the games.

With so much invested in existing infrastructure -- tens of millions of game consoles and hundreds of millions of discs -- will traditional videogaming win out and cause OnLive to fail to reach meaningful market share? Or is OnLive or something like it about to disrupt thirty years of history in one of computing's most dynamic sectors?