Cloud computing is the provision of on-demand computer resources such as data centers, applications, servers, storage and software over the internet on a pay-for-use basis or free without the user needing to host or install or run those software and resources locally.
These services and software are hosted by a network of servers which essentially are interconnected computers. Today, with only a personal computer and internet connection, you can access consumer and even commercial software services such as all back office applications, archive data and access it remotely e.t.c without needing to install the native software on your computer thanks to cloud applications. But cloud computing is much more than that: with cloud, organizations are able to deploy virtual servers for their IT systems, launch and manage databases, without investing on the infrastructure or the physical servers and networking components and devices. In future, cloud computing will facilitate autonomous or self-driving cars and IoT-based economies.
Now with 75% of existing non-cloud apps expected to make the switch to blockchain within three years according to IBM; more and more enterprises, companies, groups and even individuals will and are choosing cloud services due to their cost-effectiveness, ability to develop applications faster without having to search and install and customize software and infrastructure locally, the fact that it frees IT departments to focus on business instead of management of data centers, the difficulties that come with managing IT for non-tech professionals, the flexibility and elasticity of cloud hosted infrastructure which allows business growth to support increasing needs, speed, ability to integrate easily to their existing systems, audit and compliance features and ability for business continuity planning.
But cloud computing has met two major problems according to IBM: security and inconsistent performance. For instance, performance on shared infrastructure and apps can be inconsistent sometimes. Most of the modern cloud computing systems allow you to mitigate all or many of these problems. All of the big players in the cloud including Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google are currently experimenting with blockchain back-ends.
Although cloud computing is cost-effective for occasional use than other non-cloud means where a user installs applications, deploys software and infrastructure, manages servers and archives their data locally; it (cloud computing) turns to be more costly when used regularly say on a daily basis. A great problem with regard to cost effectiveness is due to centralization of the cloud servers and infrastructure. It becomes a single point of failure.
However, storage on cloud is pretty fast and quick with most cloud storage services offering a point and click feature to upload and archive files. With most providers, you also get vast amount of space for a fraction of cost compared to how much you could afford to pay to buy storage disk/etc. These files are stored on a server at some place. However, storage of vast amount of data on cloud could not only incur higher cost in terms of network bandwidth but also come along with internal labor costs to manage large cloud instances.
Blockchain verses cloud computing
Decentralized Storage, backup and archiving
Cloud storage, in addition to the fact that it is cost-effective compared to local hosting options for many organizations who are looking for easy and remote access of the stored data for instance from a variety of devices, mobile apps, websites and software; and the fact that the data is protected against physical damage; it can come with additional costs as discussed above.
Distributed cloud storage or sever-less cloud computing storage offers the option of having the storage hosted in a distributed network of nodes and because it utilizes blockchain and/or distributed ledger technology, the files are copied across all nodes on the network meaning you never have to worry about one node going offline or something worse happens. Not many would see the sense for this from a centralized cloud storage perspective because most centralized cloud computing (known as centralized because it could mean a few of networked servers for instance and the network is managed by a single organization) offer a 99.9% uptime meaning downtime is unnoticeable unless may be a cloud storage provider has servers destroyed in a natural catastrophe or something -- which is one of the reason may be a cloud company may invest in many servers distributed in different regions!
But distributed/decentralized cloud storage on blockchain or DLT could make sense when considering that there are some cost aspects when an organization has to work/prefer working with a centralized cloud company that will manage a 99.9% uptime. Besides, costs may go high for regular users who need to store vast amount of data and bandwidth issues may arise when uploading/retrieving vast amount of data. Some costs of accessing the data also accrue with some plans, on top of the subscription plan. For node operators, a user can store data for as long as possible or as they want at this reasonable low cost. Using blockchain also ensures encryption of data using cryptography: it somehow deals with the security aspects for data given that data on a centralized server is more prone to hacking, manipulation etc.
Blockchain-based decentralized cloud storage platforms such as Sia, Storj, Maidsafe and Filecoin also let users who need more space for storage of their data to rent unused hard disk space for a small fee using crypto or fiat. They are also pretty cost effective compared to their non-blockchain options for instance 90% less with Sia where storing 1TB of files on Sia costs about $2 per month, compared with $23 on Amazon S3 or around $26 on Google Cloud for multi-regional storage and $7 for Coldline storage but which comes with additional costs for data access and is slightly low in availability and has a 90-day minimum storage duration. Google offers a free 5GB limit.
So far, the storage capacity on Sia network is 3.0 petabytes and used storage is 184 TB. The network has 311 network providers. Storj charges $0.015 for storage and $0.05 for bandwidth per month on average each 1TB of data. Maidsafe which has been in the making for 12 years, uses a fully autonomous decentralized data network called the SAFE network that includes storage, internet browser etc.
Cloud mining of crypto
Mining is a common application for cloud services or as part of it. There is a lot of distrust for cloud mining services because most claiming to be are not genuine but scams. Most but not all. Under normal circumstances of mining cryptocurrency, you would need to buy a CPU, GPU or mining rig and then connect to a pool to mine crypto and earn passive income. You will also need to install miner software and some set up to connect to a pool in addition to wallet etc. It not hard at all, but the equipment cost some money for you to generate substantial income and there is additional electricity costs to bear with in addition to noisy and warm houses.
Cloud mining involves using shared processing power run from remote data centers and only requires a computer and optional wallet and some set up. There is no equipment to buy or sell when prices go down, you get a quiet cooler home and there is no extra electricity cost to sustain the miners. Users' computers are connected to cloud and they combine processing power to confirm blocks and share mining rewards.
A decentralized mining pool more or less employs decentralized data centers where instead of having computer processing power provided by a few or many networked computers run and owned solely by a mining pool, that computer processing power is sourced from different nodes say those staking coins in a Proof of Stake model and used to support mining of cryptocurrencies or supporting confirming of block transactions.
Sourcing, marketing and sharing processing power for other uses such as for R&D purposes
Conduit Computing, which is a project by MIT, believes that everyone has a share in solving world's most pressing problems and wants to use server-less cloud computing solution, decentralization tech and AI to revolutionize the way companies obtain and utilize computing power.
Because an average PC uses only 3/8ths of its computing capacity at any given time, they believe that they can connect PC users using their network and harness the surplus to provide most powerful cloud solution. The computing power, instead of mining, can then be offered to those who need it most including biotech, R&D departments, and universities in their drug discovery and R&D processes. Others include retail and food supply industries who need more processing power to better their supply chains, finance organizations that need to accurately analyze capital market data and stock price. Organizations and departments that need more computer processing power buy it on a pay-per-use basis and at cheaper rates than in the market.
Video, image and VR rendering services
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) use a server infrastructure where servers are located in different geographies to ensure smooth delivery of content. The servers behind the CDN stores and transfers content including video and images over network. Using caching, CDNs ensure that content needed in a given region does not need to come all the way from the original server but instead gets served from the nearest CDN due to cache.
The technical way in which the computer fetches, reads and finally delivers content on a user's content as video is called video rendering and the computer GPU utilizes a lot of processing power to processes graphics.
CDNs are used by online video platforms or video hosting platforms that offer storage, streaming, analytics and security to enterprises and individuals that want to stream live or hosted content on their websites or app or other devices. Apart from free consumer-grade platforms, dedicated professional platforms offer easy-to-use solutions, feature-rich plans, CDN access, tech support and much more. Most of modern video hosting services utilize cloud-based video management. Most vendors use 3rd party hardware leased from server giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and others.
Leonardo Render utilizes blockchain-based Leonardo’s Data Center Network to connect studios and creative agencies that struggle directly with rendering power to render farms hence cutting out middlemen vendors. Using Qbi, any company or person can render content at fast speeds for as low as $0.50 per GPU per Hour. It also allows use of the computing power for mining cryptocurrencies.
Also, with cloud-based rendering farms, blockchain solutions will certainly be tried as options for cloud-based gaming and cloud-based virtual reality applications that require heavy GPU and computer processing power. With blockchain, such apps could for instance leverage cost-effective decentralized storage sharing for video and media streaming.
Web and app hosting
What will be the future of internet look like? Cloud Web Hosting is also popular word today. It uses virtual resources of several clustered servers to host a website and is a popular option to dedicated and shared hosting. For those websites that have outgrown their resources of their existing hosting provider, cloud hosting could be a good solution. Apart from hosting a website or app, a lot of web applications today are hosted on cloud, allowing web owners and managers to use them easily over the web to develop their websites.
Cloud hosting allows users to scale or shrink at manageable costs by extending only those services they require to use and releasing those they do not need to since most of cloud hosted solutions are offered on pay-per-use basis. An example is allowing you to buy more resources at times of high traffic and releasing them when there is low traffic.
To understand website hosting, the web owner submits and have files and media hosted by centralized servers. The IPFS is a form of distributed web that begun in 2014. How it could complement cloud and other forms of web and app hosting is time to tell but there is little progress. It will take time.
It uses a distributed model that embraces a peer-to-peer architecture where different nodes share resources and talk to one another to send and receive content directly without central servers. It could help improve transfer speeds and save a lot of bandwidth because it, for instance prevents unnecessary duplication of a single file every time it is transferred on a network.
Already, through a project by Cloudflare, users are able to build websites hosted entirely on IPFS and to access those websites through an IPFS gateway that connects to the IPFS file system. Thus building and hosting can be done at a much lesser cost compared to other means of hosting and building a website, and with additional security of data and information.
Holochain and many other similar blockchain platforms are also building scalable distributed computer-to-computer networking and systems based on use of blockchain in developing a system of distributed networks of home computers and smartphones, that work on a peer-to-peer, give-and-take basis, all without central servers, ledgers, or the middlemen. That's what's called distributed hosting and serving where the separate computers serve as hosts to the content that they want to serve to the connected computers.