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Sharing Ideas in Clouds-as-Utility

April 2012

1. Starter

Here I list some ideas I got from discussions on the “IT as Utility Workshop” in Reading, Tuesday 24th January. They are based on my discussions with many in the meeting: in particular, a core idea, “sharing ideas”, is due to Yonca Ersen, an architect in the meeting.

It’s very short, consisting of only three sections including this section. Section 2 gives a brief summary of basic characteristics of clouds. It is based on my expertise, as a computer scientist, but my description is from the viewpoint of users, including providers. Section 3 discusses how we can share ideas in clouds --- which includes how we can keep what we wish to keep private private, for example, and conclude with some pilot ideas projects, mostly a direct realisation of themes discussed in Reading.

I apologise if any reader finds it offensive to use a medium operated by a private company:

however this is also one side of the reality of clouds.

2. Clouds as Utility

Many discussions I could have in the meeting circled around how we can use clouds as utility, how it may fit our shared theme. This utility is a strange kind of utility, whose features I summarise in three bullet points (and sub-items)with the following features. 1

1. It offers a highly elastic, malleable, tool for both providers and users

a. Clouds by itself does not offer a good utility: when it is provided as some services, it becomes useful (e.g. document sharing).

b. So how we use it and how we realise this utility is at the centre.

c. In the meeting we discussed about sending an instrument blueprint from UK to China and let it be tested there.

d. You can link it to external endpoints (tablets, mobile phones), sensory instruments (camera etc.), external services (almost always run in clouds these days, e.g. google map), and you can create a service.

e. Beside such linkage, clouds coexist with the physical world: for example, heat

1 I do not go into the basic technological illustration of clouds: it suffices to say it is a way to rent computing resources and space flexibly (as needed) without needing to buy hardware, made possible by many technologies esp. hypervisors and virtual networks. For a standard description of cloud technologies, see the architectural definition by NIST published late last year.

and other environmental elements are a key concern of clouds.

f. You can store a great amount of data cheaply and in an accessible form. In the meeting Nigel told us about how we may organise the vast amount of data coming from minute-by-minute traffic by trains.

2. In its general (and natural) form, the cloud computing gives us not just a single cloud, but a collection of interconnected clouds, from a private cloud in a university to global infrastructure across multiple continents, offering a robust support for communication and shared storage.

a. So your “tool” can have an expanse beyond a single location, though its parts are still located, it is a real-virtual expanse.

b. It can connect many people by sharing something together across places and across time: you can share easily.

3. Summarising 1 and 2, in clouds, you can get a tool to share services which providers and users can shape as they consider fit and which spans over geographic locations and with linkage to to the real world.

a. To maintain and provide such a tool costs, so you need to provide value-added services to those who are subscribed to that tool.

b. Such a tool, if successful, may work well because of participation by users (e.g. Facebook) as well as good administration: they contribute, and they enrich the tool, even providing new tools inside, from various motivations.

c. That is, creating such a tool may be considered as creating a new social infrastructure and organisation in which many users wish to participate and, through such a participation, enrich the tool further.

d. New ideas tend to take shape quickly, accelerated by the existing cloud tools: so users are providers and vice versa.

There are of course many other features beyond these points: but if some image is formed, that will be enough.

3. Sharing Your Ideas in Clouds: Challenges

For sharing ideas in clouds and associated virtual environments, there are many challenges and opportunities. Rather than I list some, where I do not try to be far from being exhaustive. Rather I wish to list two use cases: the accounts are rough. The first one is what Yonca and I are discussing about in terms of its potential. The second one is a topic we have been discussing in a different context.

Theme 1: Assisting ecological living through clouds:

As Appendix A of the call for EoI says, there is a great opportunity to change our way of life

through ICT technologies. How can we use Clouds for this purpose? Can we use an easy and economical sharing of data and compute/communication power which Clouds offer in this context? And how can such issues as regulation of the privacy in data sharing interact with this theme?

E-science shared by all scientists and citizens:

More and more E-science data are being accumulated in the clouds: for example, in one of the projects for Climate Change, it is possible that peta bytes of data to be accumulated each year globally. If scientists are willing, these data can be transformed into the secondary data format understandable by other scientists, while others will even be transformed to be meaningful for general public (for example, the change of temperature and other parameters in a specific area of Pacific). How can we promote the scientists and others to curate and use such data? How can we make them usable by public? How can we assure authenticity of the primary and secondary such data (e.g. data provenance)?

* * * * *

I list only these two, but for sure there are many other topics: and some of them will lead us to various research topics, both basic and applied. I hope we can continue our conversations and deepen and broaden our understanding.


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