What is the Cloud? A Layman’s Guide

The Cloud

Wikipedia defines the Cloud as “Cloud computing is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand”. This is a great and concise definition, but what does it really mean and how would you explain it to someone with minimal technological knowledge?

So, let us try to break it down in a way in which you can explain it to the more technologically challenged in your life.

In reality most households own multiple computers, and by computers I mean any device capable of a fair amount of processing power, this includes laptops, desktop PCs, gaming consoles, tablets and even smart phones. This is a sign of the times and it is great to have all this computing power and the potential it holds available to us, but in reality it is not very cost efficient. We all spend a lot of money on all these devices (and inherently the computing power they hold) but we only use them a fraction of the time. I know I am lucky if I get to turn on my game console for 4 hours a week, which means it sits idle and unused the remaining 164 hours of the week, resulting in a utilisation rate of just over 2%. Would it not be much more economical for a group of people to buy and share these devices thus ensuring their usage is as close to 100% as possible? This sounds like an easy question to answer, but in reality the practicalities thereof are a bit more difficult to address, issues arise regarding things like everyone getting access to the device, what happens if more than one person wants to use the device at the same time, etc. This fundamental reasoning is where the concept of the Cloud comes in.

The Cloud is a way of sharing computing power and data storage remotely over the Internet, thus resolving the issues related to physical access to the device in question. Now how does this work? Let us take data storage as an example. In the past if you wanted to store files (such as music, picture, documents or anything else really) you had to go to a shop and purchase some form of storage device, be that a USB memory stick, a hard drive, etc. You had to carry the cost of purchasing the item, but also the risk that you could lose it or it could break, which would result in the loss of your data. So you also had to get some additional storage to create a second copy, i.e. a backup, which increased the cost even more. But these days Cloud Storage solutions like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and iCloud offer a way of storing your files at a low cost and with backups and other maintenance activities and costs being taken care of by the provider, all for a small subscription fee (although all the above mentioned offer a free entry-level package and you only pay if you require additional capacity). The purchase of an ‘asset’ is thus replaced by a paid-for service. And because many people use these services, economies of scale come into play, thus everyone ends up paying less that they would have if they had gone and purchased the storage devices themselves.

Another example is the concept of Cloud Gaming. In the past if you wanted to play video games you either had to buy a gaming console or invest a fair amount of money into a gaming PC. There are now however quite a few Cloud Gaming companies (such as UGameNow, GameFly and Nvidia GeForce Now) that allow you to play video games on nothing more than a Smart TV or entry-level PC. How this is achieved is that the device used by the player simply acts as a mechanism to receive and send user input and render a video stream to display, with all the processing and intensive tasks being performed remotely on servers in the service providers’ data centres. These Cloud Gaming Companies also operate on a subscription bases, and although this industry is still in its infancy and is still experiencing numerous growing pains, it is not unreasonable to think that in the future we will no longer have to purchase specialised hardware to play video games, but will simply pay a monthly subscription fee, knowing we will never have the pains of upgrading hardware to play the latest games again.

Obviously the Cloud goes further than just individual consumer uses and spans into the space of revolutionising business information systems as well. No longer will businesses have to spend millions on buying expensive servers and building data center in isolation of one another, with enough computational and storage capacity to cater for peak usage which only occurs a fraction of the time and the majority of these computational and storage resources sitting idle the majority of the time. An example of this is a company’s payroll system which gets used 1 or 2 days a month when the employee payroll is processed and sits idle for the remainder of the month. Businesses can reap the same rewards that individual consumers can by utilising a Cloud Service, with economies of scale once again resulting in cost savings and less maintenance for the businesses who are the clients of these Cloud Services. The Cloud also offers businesses a great deal of agility in adjusting to changes in demand for processing and storage resources by providing on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources. The two main players in this space are Microsoft and Amazon, with their Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services offerings.

These Cloud Offerings are broken down into 3 main categories, namely Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS), Platform As A Service (PaaS) and Software As A Service (SaaS). Let us briefly have a look at each of these:

Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS) – This model involves only paying for the hardware, i.e. processing and storage utilised. All software related installations, licensing costs and maintenance remains the responsibility of the client. This process typically involves businesses migrating Virtual Machines from their on premise servers to the cloud.

Platform As A Service (PaaS) – Similarly to IaaS the client still pays for the processing and storage utilised, but now additionally for the provider to maintain all system software. This means that the client is no longer responsible for the installations, licensing costs and maintenance of system software, and these become the responsibility of the Cloud provider.

Software As A Service (SaaS) – In this case the business simply rents an application from a vendor. The maintenance and backup activities thus are the responsibility of the Cloud provider. Great examples of this is Microsoft Office 365, OneDrive, Dropbox and iCloud. Even Netflix operates on this model.

Businesses can choose one of the following options for their Cloud configuration:

Public Cloud – In this configuration the business will utilise computer resources and storage shared in the public cloud, by multiple companies and individuals.

Private Cloud – This is when the business makes use of cloud infrastructure operated only for them and the computer resources and storage are only shared by divisions from within the business itself. This cloud Infrastructure can be managed internally by the company or externally by a service provider.

Hybrid Cloud – When utilising a combination of the Cloud and traditionally on premise data center it is referred to as a hybrid cloud configuration.

One major requirement for the utilisation of the Cloud and reaping the benefits thereof by either businesses or by individual consumers is the presence of a reliable high-speed internet connection, which is not a problem in most first world countries, however in the developing world this is not always available. This can result in a compounded negative economic impact on these countries who then become even more uncompetitive compared to their first world counterparts.

One question I get asked more than any other is whether the Cloud is secure? And the answer is, as long as good security practices are followed (like not sticking your password on a post-it note on your screen etc.), that it is as secure as any other computer resource and quite often due to the increased focus on security in the cloud it might even be more secure. I also get asked whether other people will be able to see your files as the files are stored on shared resources, the answer to this is no. Although the files might be stored on a shared storage resource there are various layers of security technologies in play to prevent unauthorised access to individuals and companies’ files in the cloud.

This concept of sharing the cost of an underlying infrastructure so that everyone can benefit from the service thereof is not a new concept (think of public libraries, gyms or even the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure) but it is becoming ever more prevalent as an increased emphasis is being placed on the service being rendered as opposed to owning the item that renders that service. Even companies like Uber are built on this model as well as the planned Tesla car share initiative, and in the future we will see many more companies and offerings that follow this mindset.

What is the Cloud? A Layman’s Guide

Quick Update

Just a quick update on what I have been up to and what upcoming posts are coming in the future.

In the later haf of last year I decided to commit myself to some serious strength and fitness goals in-order to push and motivate myself more in training. I decided to compete in a few events, including a few runs in 2017, including a full marathon, and a full iron man in 2018.

My training had been going well and in early december I went to an organised run. In the first 300 meters of the run another runner fell and I stumbled to not step on him. When this happened I felt a sharp pain in my right leg, but pushed through and finished the run. The following week the leg was still sore and I assumed I pulled a ligament or a muscle.

For the next month I kept training; running, cycling and doing Crossfit. In early January the pain had not gone away and I went to a physiotherapist to have it looked at. Long story short, I eventually went for x-rays and it turns out I broke my Fibula that day on the run. So I am now in an air-cast and recovering.

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So Given the situation above I have had a bit more time to play a few games. I finished Sherlock Holmes and the Devils Daughter and really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the previous game in the series Crimes and Punishment and feel that these games are a little under-appreciated. They really remind me of the old Lucas Art or Sierra Adventure Games.

I also played the new DOOM which I loved, Watch Dogs 2 which was ok, a lot better than the original Watch Dogs but I fell that once you’ve played GTA V all other similar games struggle to measure up, so Watch Dogs 2 didn’t really hook me.

I am currently playing Yakuza 0 and it is amazing. It is the first game in the Yakuza series I have played and I am coming to the realisation that I have been missing out.

Now for some upcoming posts. I am working on a few posts and have quite a few more planned on a wide variety of subject. I am currently working on a 2 part post on DIY VR. The first part will look at smart phone based options, using specialised software to stream from a pc to a smart phone and the second part will look at a full custom build I am working on, this will utilise a 5 inch LCD display, an Arduino Nano 3 with a MPU6050 Triple Axis Accelerometer and Gyro (6DOF). The first part of this Article will be landing soon. I am also working on a few gaming based posts, some book reviews and so posts on ROBOTICS. So watch this space for more posts coming soon.

Quick Update

Dev Day 2016

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On the Tuesday 27 September 2016 the first Dev Day occurred in Johannesburg South Africa. Dev Day is best described on their twitter page as “A community-owned and driven gathering of technologists, investors, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and anyone with a strong sense of curiosity”. And I was invited to showcase some of the robots I have been working on. The event was extremely well organised with various people and Maker groups showcasing what they were working on as well as numerous speakers including Uncle Bob (Robert C. Martin). I really enjoyed the event and the experience of showing some of my work and the feedback and questions I received were amazing. It really was a great experience getting to talk and interact with similarly minded people. Many thanks to the organisers for a great event, hopefully one of many to come.

Here are some photos of my stand and the event.

Dev Day 2016

Book Review – Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business

FunCover

Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield is an interesting look at the ever increasing importance of video games in our culture and society.

This book is not your typical “video game” book, but rather covers topics such as the history, finances and growth of the video game industry  as well as the impact video games have on various other fields such as economics, epidemiology, education and even  the military.

The book draws interesting comparisons to other mediums, such as film and literature, and illustrates  similar growing pains experienced by these mediums and video games throughout history.

This book also addresses and clarifies numerous misconceptions relating to video games, such as that only males play video games and that video games carry no academic benefits.

I found this book extremely interesting not only from a video game perspective, but also from an economic and general societal perspective. I would really recommend this book not only to people interested in video games, but anyone interested in modern society in general. Fun Inc. is a worthwhile read and defends the place of video games in our culture and society. I wish my teachers could have read this book when I was still in school.

Book Review – Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business

Smartphone Camera Accessories

As of late numerous smartphone camera add-ons and accessories have become available on the market. These range greatly in price and quality and come in a variety of different configurations and options. Today we will have a look at some of these accessories, including a variety of clip on lenses, a tripod and a panoramic photo stand. All the items tested were purchased from a store called Typo and everything tested was relatively inexpensive.

First we will have a look at the lenses. All the lenses simply clip on to any smartphone and aligns with the camera. The easiest way of showing what the lenses offer is to take a look at some photos taken using them. As a point of reference all the photos were taken using my iPhone 6S.

Normal Phone Camera6S

Wide Angle Lens Wide

Illuminator Wide Angle LensSelfie Wide

Fish Eye Lensfisheye

Normal Phone Camera6SMacro

Macro LensMacro

Illuminator Macro LensIMG_0263

Illuminator Lens – LED ring light offIMG_0289

Illuminator Lens – LED ring light onIMG_0282

Both the wide-angle and fish-eye lenses deliver disappointing results with black corners appearing in the photos taken with them. This is more tolerable with the fish-eye lens because of the type of photos it produces. In the photos taken with the wide-angle lens the black corners are far more disruptive and generally ruins the photos. The macro lens on the other hand delivers great results. You can get photos of the tiniest things and they look great.

The true surprise was the illuminator lens, which delivered great results. It comes with wide-angle and macro lenses. The wide-angle lens however contains a larger lens than the previously mentioned one and thus suffers far less from the black corner problem. The illuminator lens also attaches to the phone with a much improved clip and can be attached either to the front or rear phone camera without any issues. On-top of all these benefits it also has a LED light ring that can be turned on for taking photos in lower light conditions, which works surprisingly well. Of all the lens attachments the illuminator lens is by far the best of the lenses I tested.

Now let us have a look at the tripod. So to start let me tell you a little secret to taking better photos, well 2 little secrets. There are 2 things that can greatly improve the photos you are taking, firstly getting the lighting right and secondly using a tripod. This is not the greatest tripod in the world, it isn’t even a good tripod, but even so the benefits it offer above not using a tripod is immense.

Lastly we have the panoramic photo stand. Most smartphones these days have the ability to take panoramic photos, however as most people have come to realise you require a very steady hand to take these photos. In the event that you do not posses a rock stead hand rather strange effects can occur in the resulting photos (and by strange effects I mean people looking like monsters from a Guillermo del Toro movie). The panoramic photo stand gives the user a way of achieving a steady base from which to take panoramic photos as well as automatically rotating the phone at a consistent and appropriate rate. This results in professional looking panoramic photos.

These smartphone camera accessories are a relatively inexpensive way of improving the photos taken with your smartphone, and as they are quite compact, and you always have your smartphone with you (as opposed to a dedicated camera) they offer a great opportunity to take some great photos. These accessories and your smartphone will never compete with a DSLR, but they are highly accessible and give a great number of people the opportunity to take better photos. For more photos taken using these lenses please check my Instagram.

Smartphone Camera Accessories

Double Book Review

Today we will have a look at 2 books, both related to video games, so let us get started.

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die – Updated Edition

1001 games

This is a very hefty book, weighing in just shy of 1000 pages. The book is beautifully printed in full colour on high quality glossy paper similar to what you will find in a  high-end magazine.

As indicated by the name 1001 Video games are covered. The Video games  are categorised and  divided into section based on the decade in which they were released, i.e. the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

There is a detailed description provided for each game as well as a screen shot.

I really like this book as it triggers nostalgic memories of paging through video game magazines as a child, looking at what the next big release will be. I do however believe that this is not the kind of book you will pick up and read from cover to cover, I for example have limited interest in video games released in the 1970s so I skimmed through this section and found the best use of this book is simply picking it up from time to time and looking up a specific game.

Just keep in mind that the game selection is based on the authors’ personal preferences, so there is a chance that your favourite game might not be included in the list. But even considering this, I found this to be a great book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in video games over the last few decades.

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games

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The first difference between this book and the previously reviewed one is that this is more of a coffee table book. It is also fully colour printed on high quality glossy paper and is beautifully hardbound. The book also divides the games into the decades they were released in, but also focuses on the systems on which they were released.

This book has a much more artistic feel with screen shots, box art and marketing artwork for each game covered as well as information about the game, its history as well as little factoids relating to the games.

I really enjoyed reading this book and although it covers a lot fewer games, found it to be of a more consumable size.

There is also a few pages dedicated to the leading consoles of each decade along with accompanying artwork and information.

I would recommend this book as it is great simply paging through it and looking at the amazing video game artwork over the past 40 years.

Double Book Review

Liebster Award

liebster-award

Thank you to I Old Games! for the Liebster Award nomination.

The Liebster Award is a community driven award, given to bloggers by bloggers. How the award works is once you are nominated by a fellow blogger, you firstly accept the award and thank the blogger who has nominated you, next you answer the questions asked by the blogger who nominated you and then lastly you nominate your favourite blogs and ask them 11 questions.

The purpose of the Liebster Award is to build awareness and give exposure to the blogs you like.

So here are the answers to the questions I Old Games! asked:

Question out of the blue: 3*2+6(5*7)/4=?

58,5

PC or Console? Why?

Console. When I was much younger, during school and university, I played PC games exclusively, but I got completely burnt out with the whole, upgrading the hardware, driver issues, etc. and this eventually took all the fun out of it for me. I also associate sitting in front of a PC with work, when I play games I prefer it to be relaxed on the couch in front of the TV.

What is the last game you played?

Last game I finished was the HD remaster of Heavy Rain and currently playing the HD remaster of Beyond: Two Souls.

Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola

Neither really, I never drink sugary drinks, but if I had to choose probably Coca-Cola.

Which is you favourite video games character?

This is a very difficult question to answer as there are so many great characters. But if I had to choose one I would probably say Link from the Legend of Zelda series of games.

What is the brand name of your smart phone?

Microsoft

In which historical age would you like to live? Maybe only for a couple of days…

During the Renaissance, would try to avoid the disease and war stricken time periods.

I reeeeally love sauces, dips and dressings. What is your favourite?

Tabasco Sauce, the Original.

Which X-Men do you think you could be?

I know everyone is going to say Wolverine here, so I am going to say Gambit, because he is suave and charming.

Favourite song of the Eighties?

Depeche Mode – Shake the Disease

Where will you spend your next holidays?

Nothing planned yet, but will probably be in the United States again.

So I nominate the following blogs:

ashbotandsparki
Leeskine
HexDrag3on
Craig Nicol
elketeaches
Just read
What Rhino Said
Old School Game Blog
Nintendobound
Very Very Gaming
ancientelectronics

And here are my questions to the nominated blogs:

  1. What did you want to be growing up?
  2. What is your favourite video game of all time?
  3. What is the first video game console you ever owned?
  4. What is the first video game you can remember playing?
  5. Batman or Superman? and Why?
  6. If you could be transported 1000 years into the past or the future what would you choose?
  7. Who is your favourite author?
  8. Playstation or Xbox?
  9. What is your favourite movie?
  10. Pizza or Burger?
  11. What is your favourite city in the world? and Why?
Liebster Award