Futuristic laptops with cloud-filled skies on their screens.

The cloud is a shared computing resource for complicated analysis of massive data sets.

Cloud computing

A cloud is a shared computing resource scientists are beginning to use for complicated analysis of massive data sets.

  • 28 July 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011

Any time you use an internet search engine, such as Bing or Google, you're likely to be using a cloud.

In this context, a 'cloud' is a set of computational resources – such as data storage facilities, processing power, high capacity and high speed networks, services and applications – that are typically shared by many users with minimal management (or service provider) effort.

A cloud is a scalable resource – no job is too small or, more importantly, too large – and users can use it to perform a wide variety of tasks.

Some clouds are publicly accessible on a 'fee for service' basis, others are private or allow restricted access.

For users, cloud computing means that they don’t have to deal with the infrastructure complexities of servers, applications, data and different types of platform technology. Also, significant savings come from sharing the specialised buildings that house clouds, with their massive cooling requirements and need for physical security, power and back-up power.

A cloud makes high power computing accessible and affordable and is far more flexible than a hosted server farm.

Science in the cloud

Scientific research is increasingly reliant on high power computing as it becomes more and more data intensive. The challenge is to extract knowledge from the growing sea of digital data (the 'data deluge' as it's called) – and that’s where cloud computing comes in.

CSIRO's cloud computing research includes:

  • building clouds
  • integrating different types of cloud
  • privacy, security and trust in the cloud
  • ensuring quality of service for all cloud users
  • using clouds to deliver entertainment services, such as movies on demand.

Partnering for impact

CSIRO, through Australia's National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University, has joined with National Information and Communication Technologies Australia (NICTA) and Microsoft in a partnership that gives scientists and engineers free access to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing facilities.

Having such demanding users put these facilities through their paces should identify the tools and techniques which will help the wider Australian ICT industry make better use of cloud computing.

Read more about eResearch: new tools for big science.