The Troposphere

Nov 5 2008   10:01PM GMT

Cloud computing allowed you to read an 1851 New York Times article online

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Nicholas Carr recounts the story of the New York Times trying to get its archives all online, and using cloud computing to do it.

The short version: NYT scanned all their articles in, resulting in four terabytes worth of TIFF files. They wanted to convert them all the PDFs but weren’t capable of doing it inhouse. So a software programmer at NYT sent them all to Amazon’s Simple Storage System, created some code with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud to convert them to PDFs, and voila, a day later it was done.

The total cost for the computing job? Gottfrid told me that the entire EC2 bill came to $240. (That’s 10 cents per computer-hour times 100 computers times 24 hours; there were no bandwidth charges since all the data transfers took place within Amazon’s system – from S3 to EC2 and back.)

If it wasn’t for the cloud, Gottfrid told me, the Times may well have abandoned the effort. Doing the conversion would have either taken a whole lot of time or a whole lot of money, and it would have been a big pain in the ass. With the cloud, though, it was fast, easy, and cheap, and it only required a single employee to pull it off. “The self-service nature of EC2 is incredibly powerful,” says Gottfrid. “It is often taken for granted but it is a real democratizing force in lowering the barriers.”

Which brings Carr to his main point: Cloud computing will be important for what it will be able to do that already can’t be done. Up to now, most people are focusing on how to transfer their current IT infrastructure into the cloud. But cloud computing will make its mark by opening up avenues that were previously closed, or not even built yet.

But as one commenter stated, moving existing infrastructure is going to naturally be the first focus, as enterprises are worried about their current infrastructure, and not necessarily new tasks that the cloud could tackle. It will take a more long-term visionary within the company (such as the chief technology officer) to figure out which new trenches to build.

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