An absolute beginner's guide to cloud computing - part 2
Previously at Wirehive...
In our last installment we looked at the word “cloud”, what it meant, and some of the things it allowed us to do. In this installment we will take that concept a little further and look in more depth at the concept of Cloud Computing.
We will look at what sort of services there are, and how it is possible to access them.
I should probably warn you that this one feels as if it should be complicated. But please don’t let that put you off. In reality it is extremely simple. It is purely because of the jargon that gets thrown around that it appears tricky.
So we mentioned previously that it was possible to run a programme on a large and powerful computer connected to the internet. And that people were able to access that programme from their own machines.
It is pretty safe to say that you are fully familiar with that concept, even if you don’t know it.
Have you ever used a comparison site to get prices for a service? Then you have used cloud computing.
Have you ever run a google search on a website that was not google.com? Then you have used cloud computing.
More and more, cloud computing is becoming the standard for getting things done. To understand how it works however we need to look at the concept of an API.
What is an API?
An API or Application Programming Interface is the way two machines communicate about a specific task. However, as definitions go that is too vague to be particularly helpful. Let's pretend I never said it, and let me paint you a picture instead.
Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant. You have a menu of different things you can order, and a lot of those things have a variety of different options attached. However, you are sitting at a table in the public area of the restaurant, and the chef is working away in the kitchen. Also to make things even trickier he is from Madeupia and you don’t speak a word of Madeupese.
You need a way to let him know what it is you would like to eat so he can cook it for you.
You need a waiter.
The waiter can communicate with you. They can record what it is that you want to eat, and then pass that information on to the chef in a way he can understand. He can also then bring you the food you ordered once it has been prepared.
The waiter is an API.
In this example the chef is the cloud computing service, and you are, well… you. Or at least your computer.
It is the waiter that acts as a way of communicating between the two of you. It is the waiter that carries the information about your request to the chef, and the resulting food back to you. Without the waiter you would have no real way of accessing the services provided by the chef.
This is exactly how an API works.
APIs allow one computer to send information to a second machine, and then receive a reply. In the case of cloud computing it allows you to run processes on a remote machine and display the results of them on a local computer.
A good waiter, like a good API, carries out their role so smoothly that you don’t even really notice that you are actually interacting with the chef, or Cloud Based Service.
It is possible I have stretched this metaphor a little further than I should have.
What this means in practice is that you can take a specialist process created by a company like Microsoft as part of their Azure service and make it part of the website or programme you are building. Your site simply uses the API to send information to the cloud service and takes the resulting data and shows it in the way you decided.
This is starting to sound a little complicated again, so let’s look at an example.
So What Can Cloud Computing Do?
Let’s say you have a busy website. Over time you have written a large and detailed FAQ section. Perhaps you are starting to worry that your FAQ might be so big it is stopping people from easily finding the bits that are relevant to them.
Microsoft Azure have a cloud based service which allows you to input your questions and answers. They then process these through their machine learning systems and create a chatbot. This bot looks at what people ask in real time, compares it to the questions you originally submitted and selects the most appropriate answer. You use an API to include this service on your site. There is no need to create your own question and answer chatbot system, you don’t have to host their system on your server, and most importantly, you don’t have to pay for having the system developed. You only pay for the data transfer you are using.
This is a really simple example of something that you can do. You don’t have to do any programming, or anything much more complicated than cut and paste. Microsoft have already done the hard work of creating it, and the API fetches and carries for you. However, there are many more amazing things you can do with API based cloud services.
Facial recognition in videos? Not a problem.
Emotion detection in photos? A doddle.
Handwriting recognition? Simplicity itself.
The fact is that there are a genuine wealth of Cognitive services available to anyone with a credit card and the desire to create something a bit special. There is no restriction on how you use them, the only thing limiting you is your imagination.
Before we sign off for the time being, I want to say one more thing.
Cloud computing is not just limited to cool things websites can do. There are so many different services available, and they are so mind-blowingly powerful that you can essentially do anything you can think of a computer doing.
You can run your entire business infrastructure on the cloud, and no-one in the company will even notice.
Are you an agency that wants a cutting edge development environment that your developers can access from anywhere in the world? Not a problem.
Maybe you are a large brand who wants to integrate the system your customers use to buy your products online with your CMS, your backend admin, and the messaging system your employees use? That is simplicity itself.
You are literally limited only by what you can come up with in your head.
How about having all your internal meetings transcribed automatically, voice recognition being used to tag the correct people, and then tasks being automatically allocated to the correct people at the end of the meeting?
That is already being done.
Cloud is so very much more than just remote storage and website hosting.
I hope I’ve managed to inspire you a little and give you a tiny hint of the amazing possibilities that exist when you make the journey to the cloud.
In part 3 of this series we will spend a little time looking at specific cloud providers. We will look at how the market has changed over the last year or two. And also how we think it is likely to change in the future.
Of course if you’d like to talk to someone about how moving to the cloud can make what you do more efficient and cost-effective please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Until next time…