Why use the cloud for feedback?

Cloud computing refers to the placement of computer applications in shared data centers on the Internet.  I’ve written and spoken about cloud computing elsewhere, and there are many good summaries online.

Cloud computing provides facilities and systems that benefit many applications — especially feedback applications.  Here’s a list of the key benefits:

  • Internet Communications:  The sensors that produce feedback are often far removed from the person who needs it.  Normally both have access to the Internet, whether through wired, wireless or cell phone networks.  Since cloud data centers have fast and reliable Internet links, they are an excellent point of contact for sensors and users.  In addition, the ubiquity of Internet browsers on both personal computers and handheld devices provides a ready-made channel for feedback from the cloud to users anytime and almost anywhere.
  • Low Ongoing Cost:  Today, there is no cheaper place to provide a unit of computing than in a large scale data center using cloud computing technologies. Vast economies at scale have been achieved combining automation, efficient use of power and equipment, and simplified management to minimize operating costs.
  • Low Start-up Cost:  Cloud feedback allows the elimination of on-site controllers and intermediate computers, so that initial costs are much lower.  In addition, cloud computing offers compute power in small amounts at very low prices.  A prospective user of a cloud feedback solution can begin a small pilot cheaply and grow it economically.
  • Flexibility and Scale:  Cloud computing is designed to handle large competing tasks through a technique called horizontal scaling. This is very well suited to sensor networks which may start out small and grow very large as sensors are added.  Each sensor communicates in parallel with the others, in a close architectural match to horizontally-scaled cloud computing, supporting both small- and large-scale systems.
  • Outsourced Maintenance and Upgrades: The absence of on-site and intermediate controllers means that systems can be more easily upgraded or replaced when obsolete.   Like users of other cloud services such as Google Mail or Salesforce.com, cloud feedback customers benefit from upgrades without lifting a finger (and usually without disruptions to service).  By comparison with owning and housing computers, upgrading operating systems and software, and replacing equipment at end of life, cloud feedback offers simplicity plus more frequent updates.
  • Centrally Managed Security:  Security for systems which provide feedback can be important, especially if that feedback is the basis for automatic processes.  For example, if feedback is used to automatically set thermostats or control machines, it’s important that the feedback loop not be compromised by intruders or software bugs. At first cloud computing might seem more vulnerable since cloud facilities are available over the Internet. However the centralization of facilities in the cloud permits a single group of security experts to maintain the security of the software and communications, with the cost spread over large numbers of users.  When each user is responsible for the security of their own on-site equipment, the security levels are commonly lower than centrally-managed systems.

Thanks to cloud computing, system costs are much lower than even a few years ago.  Meanwhile, the number of potential feedback applications has grown due to advances in sensor technology and the increased value of energy and water efficiency.   This blog will highlight many examples of cloud feedback, with particular attention to the ways they exploit the cloud.

January 29, 2010 · knovak · No Comments
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