By Paul Hickingbotham, Group Technical Director at Hammer
In September 1977, the Voyager probe was launched into space to collect data about the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and to undertake an exploration into space.
It is now the farthest man-made object from Earth, at over 19.5 billion kilometres away, and it has travelled farther than anyone, or anything, in history. For almost 37 years it has been quietly drifting through the solar system; yet last year, the Voyager made the news again because NASA announced it had finally crossed over the border of the solar system – known as the heliopause – and into interstellar, or unknown, space.
The Voyager’s epic journey has recently reminded me of Cloud computing’s own epic expedition.
The information that the Voyager has the potential to collect and transmit back to Earth from this unknown expanse could be scientifically groundbreaking, and the spacecraft is sending scientific information about its surroundings back to Earth through the Deep Space Network, or DSN. Even an article on the NASA website states that “Voyager 1… has been sending back so much unexpected data that the science team has been grappling with the question of how to explain all the information.” However, in roughly 10 years, the plutonium power sources in the Voyager will stop generating electricity, and data will no longer be sent. In fact, some capabilities of the spacecraft have already halted due to electrical power limitations.
This is how the constantly evolving Cloud, on its own ground-breaking journey, evoked in my mind similarities to the Voyager.
The Cloud has recently undergone a transformation in terms of how it is marketed to the masses; from its humble beginnings when its definition was still being formed, to Cloud providers now rushing to define the Cloud and its benefits to their customers in their own individual ways. Analyst firm Gartner has also described Cloud computing as being “a disruptive phenomenon, with the potential to make IT organizations more responsive than ever. Cloud computing promises economic advantages, speed, agility, flexibility, infinite elasticity and innovation,” but Gartner also poses the question: “How will you phase your organization into cloud computing?”
Its ubiquitous nature is the prevailing factor, demonstrated in taglines recently attached to it such as ‘any time, any device, anywhere’, ‘infinite’, and ‘borderless’. The ‘borderless, infinite’ connotations especially represent the journey the Voyager is undertaking.
Imagine the planets representing virtualization in the datacentre, the solar system representing the Cloud, and the edge of the solar system, which the Voyager has now entered, representing the ‘borderless, infinite’ Cloud. Similarly to the Voyager, our understanding of data management began with virtualization in the datacentre, which extended out into the ‘solar system’, or the Cloud, as the Voyager itself did. The question is – how will the Cloud adapt, now that, like the Voyager, it has entered new and unexplored, ‘borderless’ territories?
The key in the Voyager mission is the data itself – as it is with the Cloud – because without data being sent back to NASA for analysis, the Voyager probe could be anywhere in the Milky Way, and it wouldn’t matter because the data would not be safely transmitted back to Earth. Also, the data transmitted needs to be reconstructed and analysed to provide worthwhile information. Similarly, data stored in the Cloud can be stored virtually anywhere – as long as it is safely transmitted back to its rightful owner in perfect condition.
Since departing in 1977, scientists have been able to manipulate the Voyager mission and the technology therein, and continue to do so up to the present day – enabling it to change direction, update software, update operating systems (Fortran 5, Fortran77 and C) and repair hardware faults without loss of service. The NASA website meticulously lists the weekly Mission Operations Status Reports and Flight Operations Schedules for the spacecraft, and the Voyager is equipped with computer programming for autonomous fault protection. There are seven top-level fault protection routines, each capable of covering a multitude of possible failures; and the spacecraft can place itself in a safe state in a matter of only seconds or minutes.
The ability of the Cloud to offer the same seamless ‘always-on’ service, with the ability to evolve dynamically as needs change, is key to its future success. This ability to evolve can be demonstrated through the recent addition of community Cloud to the previous list of Cloud deployment model descriptions: private, public and hybrid, as outlined by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
Similarly, Cloud System Builders (CSBs), such as Hammer, and Cloud System Providers (CSPs) will need to adapt as the market changes, too, in order to be flexible enough to survive and thrive in the Cloud, and tailor their offerings accordingly. Understanding not just the technology, but how the hardware and software ecosystem marry together through each ISV’s abilities to create the correct combination to be bespoke for each specification, is crucial.
Are we there yet?
Last year the Voyager made history by leaving the solar system and crossing into a previously unknown region of space – what will it find as its exploration continues into infinity, which humankind may never know due to its finite ability to transmit data back to Earth? And how can the boundaries of Cloud computing as we know it be stretched not just to infinity, but beyond, as it continues to develop in the world of storage?
Ed Stone, Voyager Project Scientist for NASA, said when the Voyager entered interstellar space: “We can now answer the question we've all been asking - 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are.”
The ISO has also recently released two new standards for Cloud computing, calling it an “evolving paradigm.” Therefore, as long as data is still restored to its owner in its original condition every time (the fundamental storage function of the Cloud), its evolution has far from finished its journey – but this is no bad thing. Consequently, I don’t think we will be able to answer with as much certainty as NASA did for quite some time, as Cloud continues to evolve into infinity, and beyond.
Published Date: 08/04/2015
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