What is the cloud?

IBM’s Doug Clark explains it to a Martian.

IBM Industries
Oct 18, 2017 · 3 min read
Diego PH / Unsplash

IBM’s new Martian friend just landed on Earth and is excited to learn about all the latest developments in human technology. In this Q&A series, IBM experts explain complicated topics to our Martian (and you).

We have clouds on Mars, but we don’t have “the cloud.”

Doug Clark is IBM’s worldwide cloud and cognitive lead for the telecommunications, media and entertainment industry. I asked him to tell me what the cloud is all about, and why so many businesses on Earth are using it.

Want to learn how to virtualize your network in the cloud? Catch IBM’s Bill Lamberston, Oovvuu’s Ricky Sutton, and Flagship Solutions’ Mark Wyllie on March 20 at Think 2018.

What is cloud computing? Does it have anything to do with clouds in the sky?

Cloud computing is essentially utility computing. You don’t need to own the computing technology yourself to use it. You kind of rent it for the period you need it. It’s like your gas or water or electric. You pay for what you consume and the onus is on the cloud provider to keep the underlying technology fed and watered. That means the power supplies and cooling, all the systems patch management, and even the physical security is on somebody else’s shoulders — not yours. It’s like buying a plane ticket instead of buying a plane.

So moving to the cloud basically means renting a provider’s computing or storage capacity. Where’s the stuff you’re renting actually located?

Anyone who offers cloud services has data centers, because ultimately someone has to provide the servers and storage and network. IBM is a cloud provider and it has cloud data centers spread around the world. Our cloud technology is all interconnected over a private network, it all looks the same and its consistency is managed from one central point, which for IBM is in Dallas.

The Internet is sometimes slow when I’m watching video. Can the cloud fix that?

When you watch video online, you are connecting to the cloud. The link between your screen and the content you love is a content delivery network, CDN. If there’s too much traffic on the CDN, you’ll see a spinning wheel on your screen. That’s buffering and it’s hugely frustrating. It often makes viewers stop subscribing. While many cloud providers only have one CDN, IBM has a bunch of CDNs in our service. If we detect bad performance on one CDN, we automatically swap to a new connection and improve your viewing experience. In fact, as a Martian you might be interested to know that our International Space Station, ISS, uses IBM Cloud Video to stream for free. You should check it out!

I will! By the way, how about the TV networks providing the programming? Can the cloud help them, too?

Absolutely. Say you’re a network and you launch a show like Breaking Bad or Westworld and it’s totally meteoric — the demand is crazy. You’d want to use the cloud to boost your streaming capacity and grow with the success of the show. Traditionally, you’d be out at Best Buy buying servers every 20 minutes struggling to keep up with the pace. But with cloud it’s like a fire hydrant and you can just keep on turning it and getting more out. When the series finishes you can turn it down again. That’s why the cloud is so efficient. You don’t pay for excess capacity when you don’t need it.

What if networks already have their own data centers and servers? Should they get rid of them?

Most of our cloud clients will have already spent money building their own data centers or servers. As advisers to business, we don’t advise you throw that away until the time is right and the business case supports it. But when that system is up for renewal, we advise you to reinvent your network and look at swapping it out. Instead of putting your money in new servers, we say put in cloud. In the meantime, many TV networks will be operating “hybrid” systems, combining existing data centers and cloud data centers.

Thanks for talking with me, Doug. I come in peace.

Same here.

Learn more about how IBM’s cloud solutions can help businesses reinvent their networks.

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