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Defining Cloud Computing – Part 2: Distributed Computing

February 9th, 2009

Distributed Computing

Distributed computing was one of the first real instances of cloud computing (albeit in reverse). Long before Google or Amazon, there was [email protected] Proposed in 1995 and launched in 1999, this program uses the spare capacity of internet connected machines to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This is sort of the cloud in reverse.

A more recent example would be software like Hadoop. Written in Java, Hadoop is a scalable, efficient, distributed software platform designed to process enormous amounts of data. Hadoop can scale to thousands of computers across many clusters.

Distributed computing is nothing more than utilizing many networked computers to partition (split it into many smaller pieces) a question or problem and allow the network to solve the issue piecemeal.

Another instance of distributed computing, for storage instead of processing power, is bittorrent. A torrent is a file that is split into many pieces and stored on many computers around the internet. When a local machine wants to access that file, the small pieces are retrieved and rebuilt.

As the cloud computing buzzword has evolved, distributed computing has fallen out of that particular category of software. Even though distributed computing might take advantage of the internet, it doesn’t follow the other tenants of cloud computing, mainly the automatic and instant scalability of resources.

That’s not to say that a distributed system couldn’t be built to be a cloud environment. Bittorrent, or any P2P system, comes very close to a cloud storage. It would require some additional protections like file ownership and privacy across all nodes but it could probably be done. Privacy like that is not quite what P2P is all about though.

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