CherryPal: Is cloud computing finally here?

Slashdot just linked to an article about the CherryPal, a lightweight computer designed to run applications off the Internet rather than locally installed ones. The CherryPal is light both in terms of size and power. While it’s only 10.5 ounces and uses just 2 watts of power, it’s also powered by a low-power Freescale processor at 400Mhz with just 4GB of storage and 256MB of RAM. That’s incredibly low powered by today’s standards. However unlike other lightweight machines such as the OLPC or the Eee PC, the CherryPal computer isn’t meant to be a stripped down generic computer.

The CherryPal runs an embedded version of Debian Linux, but the operating system is effectively hidden from the user. While there are a few installed applications like OpenOffice, Firefox and Multimedia support, the bulk of the CherryPal’s applications run online and are augmented by 50GB of online storage. Essentially the CherryPal is meant to be just a gateway to the cloud. I’ve talked about cloud computing before and I’m gradually coming to believe that cloud computing is going to be one of the core infrastructures of 21st century computer technology. While I am a bit skeptical about the CherryPal’s ultra-light specs, I think it is certainly a good concept. The question is, will it all actually work?

Two days ago Infoworld ran an article comparing 4 cloud computing architecture providers. The article was interesting for showing that while cloud computing is already a feasible option for those who want to try it, there is still no lowest common denominator for the industry as a whole. The 4 services are quite different and if you should ever be in a position of moving from one to another, I don’t think the experience would be entirely painless (or even possible in some cases).

When cloud computing becomes an everyday reality (which won’t be too long looking at how things are going), then it seems like their will be three-tier structure. The first will be the user: you running a low cost, low power computer, perhaps not very different from the CherryPal. It will have just even power to run a browser with full Javascript and Flash, and maybe a very minimal set of on site software. You’ll mainly use this machine to use online services, such as Zoho’s suite for office work, Gmail for email, MP3tunes to store your music and so on. Of course, all your data will be stored online behind layers of encryption with multiple backups. Some of these providers will have their own servers with their own back-end infrastructures. But a lot of them, especially smaller, newer startups will simply be leasing computing power and storage from the even larger cloud provided by companies such as Amazon and Google (S3 and App Engine for example).

Of course, cloud computing won’t completely replace normal computers. I’d hate to play a 3D FPS over the Photoshop Expresscloud and more intensive graphics application will still need powerful on-site hardware for acceptable performance (though Photoshop Express does show promise). There’s also the fact that many people will simply not trust their data to another party. However, for these people, it would be possible to run their own cloud. With the falling price of hardware and storage, you can even today easily put together a powerful home server and connect to it remotely, thus not having to lug your data with you everywhere. In fact, this will be one of my projects for next semester at school.

So is cloud computing finally here? Not quite. The industry is still in a growing stage and needs to become much more mature before it becomes. We will need to see standardization in the same that the internet has (mostly) standardized around HTML and CSS. Different cloud computing providers will have to work together so that it is possible to pull features from different clouds and change providers if necessary. Hopefully this time around we’ll see a more civilized growth of a powerful new computing paradigm and not a rerun of the browser wars of the 90s.

One thought on “CherryPal: Is cloud computing finally here?

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