An Introduction to the Personal Cloud

Think of an austere, windowless room filled with massive metallic machines. All are hooked together with multi-colored wires and covered in lights that blink at random. What metaphor would you use to describe that? Odds are, you wouldn’t say, “A cloud.”

In reality, “the cloud” doesn’t refer to the data center itself but to how companies use the resources of the data center to deliver massive compute power as a service over the Internet. Here’s a review of where the cloud came from, its role in DevOps and new trends in cloud development that could unleash massive market disruptions as soon as 2017.

Cloud Origins

Many organizations have used the term “cloud computing,” or the engineering symbol of a cloud on schematic diagrams, to represent an unspecified pathway of various server resources connected over the Internet.

As a business model and a searchable keyword, cloud computing started becoming popular after Google’s Eric Schmidt used the term at a Search Engine Strategies Conference in 2006. Schmidt said, “There is an emergent new model, and you all are here because you are part of that new model. I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a “cloud” somewhere. And that if you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn’t matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile phone or a BlackBerry or what have you – or new devices still to be developed – you can get access to the cloud. There are a number of companies that have benefited from that. Obviously, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon come to mind.”

Rapid Growth Stage

In that same talk, Schmidt said that the cloud was available 10 years earlier, but people were just beginning to understand its potential due to advances in advertising. His suggestion is supported by a report from MIT scholars in 1996 that introduced the “confederated approach” business model for Internet-based businesses, including a “cloud of intermediate networks.”

In 2008, cloud computing was a nascent industry with investments from Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce and many others. Gartner defined the cloud that year as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.” Spending for cloud services, especially computer, storage and virtual infrastructure, hit $47 billion by 2013 and it’s now on track to reach $107 billion in 2017. It’s important to realize, though, there is not a single cloud like there is a single Internet. There are actually many, many clouds, both public and private.

Public versus Private versus Hybrid Clouds

It’s a mistake to talk about the cloud provisioning market like a single monolithic industry. It’s really made up of a wide variety of hardware vendors, developers, solution providers and channel partners. The characteristics of public clouds are very different from private clouds, although many vendors say they offer both. Hybrid refers to any combination of public and private clouds in various amounts within a single deployment.

In the public cloud, everyone from global enterprises to individual consumers can rent the power of global data center networks. The biggest benefit is instant access to vast compute power without capital expenses. You can pay for processing resources as they are used or even by the hour. The world of the public cloud is dominated by Amazon’s AWS (Amazon Web Services) EC2. Close behind AWS are the Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace.

The private cloud puts a piece of the cloud behind firewalls for use by an individual company. It can be implemented on the company’s on-premise servers or hosted virtually at the cloud provider’s data center. The private cloud is much more expensive than public, but it also gives companies more options for tuning their environments.

How DevOps Uses the Cloud

The cloud makes life easier for developer teams thanks to PaaS (Platform as a Service) options like Heroku. These save time on system setup and deployment so there’s no need to build and tear down development servers. You’ve got a sandbox whenever you need it.

For developers who need more control, there are IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) hosting options like Digital Ocean. These are essentially bare metal servers with virtual environments that can replicated easily and tuned to match a variety of testing configurations. Cloud hosting environments like these have become the default home for the majority of distributed software. The IDC reports that 85 percent of new software being built today is destined for the cloud.

On the operations side, the cloud allows smaller enterprises to take advantage of the vast resources devoted to security by large cloud providers. Access to massive failover capabilities means that software-defined processes running in the cloud are better protected from network traffic spikes or DDoS attacks that threaten company servers. The cloud also makes it possible to manage application performance monitoring data from anywhere. That translates directly into more preventative measures and less downtime.

Enterprises Built on Clouds

While the global marketplace has been rocked by digital transformation, many businesses have found ways to reinvent themselves and regain their standing using applications in the cloud. Cloud apps include popular business services providers and productivity boosters that can be accessed on any device and scaled as needed. Top cloud apps for business include Dropbox for making document storage mobile, Evernote for searchable notation center, InsightSquared Analytics for instant data reporting capabilities and Geopointe for managing sales teams.

Many enterprises have deployed cloud solutions to simplify digital transformation over the past few years. One good example in a traditional industry involves Delhaize America, owner of grocery chains such as Food Lion and Bottom Dollar. They applied cloud-based analytics to aggregate purchasing data. They found that purchases of certain magazines and types of grilling meat was correlated with specific temperatures. This helped them better manage their inventory and significantly curtail operating expenses.

The Arrival of a Personal Cloud

The biggest news on the cloud front, however, is something that many independent app developers have been discussing for years: a fully functional cloud hosting platform designed for a single individual or small team.

Antsle was just introduced as a small, completely silent home server with the power of 100 virtual servers. It gives independent developers full access to their own private cloud with a total monthly hosting cost of $0.

Take a look at some of Antsle’s most impressive capabilities:

  • The AntsleOS and Antman manager to support virtual machines (VMs) called antlets.

  • Antlets are based on containers, with full KVM virtualization and RAM can be shared between Antlets.

  • Each VM can use any OS. If you want to, you can test out apps on Linux, SmartOS, Windows, BSD or whatever else you need at the moment.

  • The Antsle box uses a custom-built Linux Kernel for optimal application performance management. It also uses ZFS (the fault-tolerant file system), error-correcting RAM, mirrored SSDs for instant failover without loss of data. It also supports LXC, KVM and libvert.

Trend Convergence in the Personal Cloud

What’s most interesting about Antsle is how it brings together several trends in next generation infrastructure development. First of all, it’s open source and built by crowdfunding. The initial funding for Antsle came from an Indiegogo campaign.

Another recent trend is the heightened sensitivity to government surveillance and exposure to cybercrime. Bernie Bloom, Antsle’s CEO, explained that this technology was inspired by reports of back doors into private data at large hosting companies. “Let’s face it – you never know what they do with your data,” Bloom said. “Hosters are under government surveillance. They rely on advertising to make money based on your data. As a developer, I can say I just feel much better if my code and data is on an Antsle in my home, and *I* decide if and when that data leaves my home.”

Democratizing the Cloud

The real test for Antsle will be in 2017, when the company plans to support 2,000 apps and directly address the general consumer market. At $699 each, Antsle boxes make sense for businesses right now that can post ROI from eliminating their monthly hosting fees. However, to appeal to consumers they’ll need to a much lower price point or make a compelling case for privacy. If they succeed, Antsle and companies like them could democratize the compute powers of the cloud, just as the web democratized information two decades ago. In that case, the digital disruption the world has witnessed so far will pale in comparison with what’s to come.