I’m not sure that most people understand the extent to which our online experience has moved to the cloud – and this movement to the cloud means we’re using a lot more bandwidth than in the recent past. A huge number of online functions now reside in the cloud, when only a few years ago a lot of processing was done on our computers.
Take the example of Twitter, where I keep an account to upload a copy of my blog every day. The Twitter platform exists in a series of interlinked data centers. When I open Twitter to look at my feed I see comments made by people I’m following on the platform. What is extraordinary is that Twitter sends me constant real-time updates of the status of all of those comments. I can see instantly when somebody has liked or has commented on each of the many tweets included on my feed. Twitter is constantly streaming me data that updates the statistics for each tweet on my feed. That’s a constant downstream feed that happens whenever the supplication is open. If I keep Twitter open all day in the background, these updates happen constantly, regardless of whether I am looking at Twitter.
The same thing now happens to all of the software in my Microsoft office suite. Every change I made to a document or spreadsheet is constantly saved in the cloud. It seems like a big benefit because I never have to worry about losing work, but the autosave function on my desktop used to perform the same function, and I rarely lost any work due to an unexpected event like a power outage.
The real advantage of cloud documents is for collaboration. I mostly work alone, but I recently edited a document in real time with a client and it was interesting seeing both of our keystrokes appearing in the document in real time. At least in my world, this is still not a common way to work, mainly due to the fact that people are using a wide array of different software platforms. But I could understand the power of this tool working inside a corporation where employees are scattered and not in the same office.
All sorts of other software have quietly edged into the cloud without us noticing it. As an example, updates are now made to online banking and credit card accounts as transactions occur. It wasn’t long ago when updates were batch processed and not done live. These companies have changed the software so that when they see any update for our accounts we are linked instantly to that change. The cloud version of the online banking portal doesn’t look any different than the old one – the change is in the background where data is shared instantly.
The industry with the most dramatic shift to the cloud is probably gaming. The ability to play games online with others has been around for a decade, but the gaming companies have beefed up data centers so that interactions between gamers happen as quickly as possible. Serious gamers know that a difference in milliseconds can provide an advantage over gamers using a slower broadband connection. The even bigger change in the industry was putting the game software in the cloud. This means instant gratification since a new game can be played within minutes rather than having to go buy a CD or having to download a huge file.
The shift to the cloud is still an ongoing transition and there are still plenty of software packages that are not processed in the cloud, but it’s obvious that everything will eventually be in the cloud.
Having software and applications in the cloud has made a big change in home bandwidth usage. If I have Twitter open in the background there are constant updates coming to my computer. The industry refers to this traffic as machine-to-machine traffic where updates are made between computers and the cloud without users taking any active steps to request an update. I read recently that Cisco says that this is the fastest growing segment of broadband usage as more and more functions are migrating to the cloud. It’s unlikely that cloud traffic will ever come close to overtaking video traffic in terms of the number of bits being sent, but it’s one of the reasons that homes are using more broadband every year.