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					                       White Paper:
The MacBook Air’s Connection to the Future of Cloud Computing

                        Jennifer Noble
                          INF 385P
                   Professor Randolph Bias
                        March 6, 2008
            Imagine a world where information is always accessible – music, movies,
documents, and presentations are all stored online in remote servers. Sharing these items
  with collaborators does not require the need to email individual files or track multiple
  versions of documents. Vast collections of servers can store massive amounts of data
without a company needing to buy a single supercomputer… and every bit of information
     is available all the time through ultra-portable devices with high speed Internet
   connections. Welcome to the world of cloud computing; big players like Amazon,
Google, and Apple want to transform the cloud from a trendy catchphrase to reality. But
 will both consumers and companies want to shift into a fundamentally different way of
 computing? Does the ease of shared resources overshadow the possible privacy issues
involved? And how can cloud computing enhance the usability of everyday tasks for the
       Like its meteorological namesake, this “cloud” of computers can seem a little

fuzzy at the edges. No single definition for cloud computing has been standardized; every

major company invested in the development of this type of technology focuses on

different aspects of the “cloud.” Some see cloud computing manifested in web-based

applications while others see the cloud as a form of utility computing that processes vast

amounts of data. Another group thinks the cloud is akin to parallel computing; this

approach divides large problems into smaller ones that are processed concurrently (Weiss

18). Regardless of the particular definition one chooses, a single theme seems to repeat

within the discussion of cloud computing; one can access more resources with less hassle.

       Distinguishing a “cloud” from a grouping of machines is tricky; clouds require a

higher level of interoperability than a standard network. As a result, computer engineers

are focusing efforts on creating a “data center” operating system that replaces the

independent machines running its own copy of an OS. Essentially, this “CloudOS” can

manage the resources of an entire cluster of computers more cohesively than ever before

(20). This “omniscient” operating system relies on networking channels to emulate the

operations of a single physical machine. In terms of usability, this can eliminate a whole

spectrum of possible problems arising from the individual installations of an operating
system. The cloud can avoid the inconsistencies of multiple installations of an operating

system; instead, adopted standards can increase the ability of a user to trouble-shoot and

manage the resources of the entire cloud. A single interface replaces the possible

confusion of multiple instances, reducing the possibility of human error in administration

or diagnostics.

         None of this comes cheap; these server clouds require immense amounts of power

for both running and cooling the machines. Both Google and Amazon have built these

data centers in the Pacific Northwest and Canada where hydroelectric plants provide

cheaper (and greener) power. Other companies are looking at building data centers in

China, the home of a rapidly expanding number of power plants (Weiss 19). The

possibilities for profit are yet unexplored, but the market is there. Most companies rely on

in-house data centers to use at will, but there are significant costs associated with the

development and maintenance of such facilities. These include real estate, hardware,

power, cooling, and upkeep of hardware. The threat of disasters necessitates back-up,

redundancy, and overpowered servers. Google, IBM, and Amazon have spent countless

dollars on innovating their own large-scale data centers. For these companies, a logical

extension of this investment would be to create a business model to support third party


         So, what is currently being offered in terms of cloud computing? Amazon’s

Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, Beta program provides access to a “cloud” of computer

servers, offering consumers, educators, and businesses immediate access to this type of

technology. Amazon introduced this service in late 2007, and it has already seen a good

bit of success. EC2 is perfect for data crunching, filling a gap between desktops and
supercomputers. Now software programs can use these linked computers to scan huge

data sets, such as the contents of system-wide email programs, social networks, and

Wikipedia. The cloud can also launch additional machine instances of Web applications

if traffic spikes, preventing downtime within these massive programs. Amazon’s EC2 has

a pay-as-you-go model, charging about fifteen cents to store a gigabyte of data for a

month or ten cents an hour for processing time. Google and IBM have taken a different

route to promote cloud computing; they will offer free use of a cluster of computers to the

computer science departments of top American research universities (Hand 963). These

companies encourage the use cloud computing for one simple reason: they have to have

someone to hire. To be valuable Google employees in the future, computer science

students of today need to learn how to write software that uses the interlinked computers

to work in a parallel fashion. By offering these students the resources to learn how to

accomplish these tasks, Google and IBM are ensuring themselves of a future workforce.

       Another intriguing aspect of the cloud computing world is the idea of software as

service. By moving all of the processing power to an external server, one could walk

around with just a portable input device. This framework is already in place today; the

Web offers a multitude of applications that replace software. For many people, they only

use Web-based email systems. The development of Google Documents provides a free

alternative to pricy word processing programs – and Google has also introduced

spreadsheet and presentation software to challenge that market of software programs.

Microsoft has taken note; they have started to develop their own “cloud” to future-proof

their business model. Even Adobe has created Web versions of Photoshop and Premiere

in order to appeal to this new type of user. The idea of cloud computing represents a
paradigm shift for the consumer. Instead of choosing option-laden machines, one can

now consider efficient, uncomplicated devices. With PDAs, cell phones, and ultra-

portable devices like the iPod Touch providing nearly constant Web access… why not?

        With the splashy launch of the MacBook Air, Apple introduced the first public

test of the viability and usability of cloud computing (Rubel). Apple sees this future as a

more immediate prospect. Cloud computing has moved out of the realm of science

fiction, so Apple has already started manufacturing the devices that can access these vast

networks. At CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2008, Bill Gates gave a speech about

the future of cloud computing; the next week, Steve Jobs introduces an ultra portable

laptop that aims to bring this nebulous concept to the masses. The design of the computer

is striking; while not the thinnest laptop nor the lightest laptop in the world, it is elegant.

It feels like a solid piece of metal. Its size doesn’t force a user to compromise all luxuries

of a larger laptop. A glossy 13.3 inch LCD screen, a full-size keyboard , and a heralded

multi-touch trackpad make the MacBook Air feel similar to other Apple products. The

trackpad should be noted as a gem of usable design; essentially the same as the interface

of the iPhone, the user can squeeze, expand, and rotate with intuitive gestures. The

learning curve for the trackpad is quite small; even the most technological unsavvy

person can pick up the mannerisms quickly.

        The main focus of the MacBook Air is to bring portability to the masses. Its size

is neglible. Television advertisement shows the computer fitting into a manila envelope.

One reviewer even noted that he thought his backpack was empty, despite the MacBook

Air and all of its accessories contained within his bag (Venezia 3). In no way does this

computer feel like a desktop replacement; Apple designed it without an optical drive.
Instead, Apple expects users to install programs through downloading or through a

special remote program that accesses other computers, both Windows and Apple. The

same thought process is behind the inclusion of only one USB port. The hard drive is also

quite small; an even smaller solid-state version is offered for another thousand dollars.

The computer does not even offer a typical Ethernet connection – an adaptor can be

plugged into the single USB port. All of these factors offer challenges in terms of a

consumer’s typical use patterns, especially if one likes to use an external mouse or stores

information on DVDs or flash drives or uses a wired connection … and wants to utilize

all at the same time. The design of the MacBook Air commits to the principles of cloud

computing, forcing the user to change his behavior. In terms of usability, this is a definite

drawback to this product. The design is flawed, but both its physical beauty and its

commitment to the idea of cloud computing still attracts admirers.

       Does this design by Apple mark the beginning of consumer acceptance of the idea

of cloud computing? Perhaps. Sales have been brisk, but far from mind-blowing. Small

segments of the population seem to agree to these limitations, especially frequent

business travelers. But for the price, it seems difficult for the general public to make the

switch over to a wholly cloud computing model. Privacy concerns, especially regarding

the need for wireless security, is also troubling. Cloud computing expects one to store and

process vast amounts of information on third party servers. The possibility of that data

being hacked, stolen, or sold makes one wonder about the safety of this system (Pollette

3). Both the current implementation of cloud computing and the devices built around it

need refinement in order to increase its usability and viability for the future.
                                        Works Cited

Hand, Eric. “Head in the Clouds.” Nature. 25;449 (2007 Oct).

Pollette, Chris. “How the Google-Apple Cloud Computer Will Work.” 2 Mar. 2008 <

Rubel, Steve. “The MacBook Air is the Biggest Test Yet for Cloud Computing.”
       MicroPersuasion. 2 Mar. 2008 <

Venezia, Paul. “Product review: MacBook Air is light as, well, air.” (Feb
      11, 2008): NA. General OneFile. Gale. University of Texas at Austin. 2 Mar.
      2008 <>.

Weiss, Aaron. Computing in the clouds. netWorker 11, 4 (Dec. 2007), 16-25

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