Although it’s hard to believe, given how ubiquitous it is today, cloud computing as a practical reality has only been around for the past decade or so. However, at that time, it revolutionized the concept of IT networking and infrastructure.
In the simplest terms, it involves providing computer storage, processing power, and applications via the internet, so users don't need to worry about buying, installing, and maintaining hardware and software themselves.
In that time, we’ve seen the emergence of multi-cloud – which involves businesses and organizations picking and choosing services across the multitude of cloud providers – and hybrid cloud, where infrastructure is delivered via both cloud and on-premises solutions.
But technological progress never stands still, and more recently, new terms, including supercloud and sky computing, have emerged to describe what the next stage in the evolution of “infrastructure-as-a-service) might look like.
But what do they mean, and what advantages do they offer businesses and organizations? Let’s take a look at them in a little more depth and examine some of the potential use cases.
What Are Supercloud and Sky Computing?
Both of these terms, in fact, describe very similar ideas – the next stage in the evolution of cloud computing, which will be distributed across multiple providers. It will also integrate other models, including edge computing, into a unified infrastructure and user experience. Other names that are sometimes used include “distributed cloud” and “metacloud”.
This is seen as necessary because, while many organizations have made the leap to multi-cloud, the different cloud providers do not always integrate with each other. In other words, a business pursuing a multi-cloud may find itself managing multiple cloud environments, with each one operating, to some extent, as an independent entity. This can make it difficult if, for example, we want to shift applications or data from one cloud to another.
The answer proposed by the supercloud concept is to create another abstraction layer above this that operates agnostically of whatever cloud platform or platforms are running below it. This is the supercloud, where applications can be run in containers or virtual machines, interfacing with any cloud platforms underneath.
The result is separate cloud environments that operate as if they are interconnected with each other, allowing software, applications, and data to move freely between them.
This means that a business might have service agreements in place with, for example, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. Infrastructure could then be reconfigured on-the-fly through the supercloud interface to move services between these different platforms, or between servers in different geographic locations, as requirements change.
Examples of when this might be useful are when services need to be delivered to a new group of users in a new region or when a particular data center becomes overloaded. The entire application can simply be "lifted and shifted" to a new, more convenient data center or a different cloud provider.
In many deployments, supercloud combines the benefits of both hybrid and multi-cloud, as it also gives access to on-premises infrastructure and other models such as edge computing. The important part is that all of it is accessible and usable through a unified user interface, so the actual location where the data is stored and where the applications are running from is invisible to the user, who always has a consistent experience.
As well as simplifying internal infrastructure, systems, and processes, migrating to supercloud models, in theory, makes it easier for organizations to integrate and share tools or data with their clients and partners, who may be using completely different platforms to them.
What Are The Key Challenges With Supercloud and Sky Computing?
Right now, a major challenge when it comes to setting up supercloud infrastructure is security. This is because different cloud providers might have different security protocols, and any data and applications that have to operate across multiple providers will need to be configured in a way that’s compatible with all of them.
Using more cloud services simply means that there are more surfaces where data can be exposed to possible security breaches. A priority for those laying the foundations for supercloud systems will be creating automated solutions that run in the supercloud layer in order to offer protection regardless of what cloud service or on-premises infrastructure is being used.
Fundamentally, cloud computing is designed to be a final stepping-stone on the road to the commoditization of computing infrastructure. This objective is set out in a paper published in 2021 by the University of California, Berkley professors Ion Stoica and Scott Shenker, titled From Cloud Computing to Sky Computing.
Stoika and Shenker were early proponents of the cloud computing paradigm, writing about it as early as 2009. Back then, they predicted that it could lead to compute and storage infrastructure becoming "utilities," similar to electricity and internet connectivity. This didn’t happen – largely due to the emergence of different standards between different cloud service providers (Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and so on). Supercloud (or sky computing, as Stoica and Shenker prefer to term it) may be the way to finally make it happen.
They do, however, posit that while the technical challenges will be fairly simple to overcome - creating services and standards to communicate between different clouds, for example – might encounter some resistance from the cloud providers themselves.
Will Amazon or Google welcome the idea of “sharing” their cloud customers with competing services? Stoica and Shenker point to the existence of applications such as Google Anthos – an application management platform that runs on Google Cloud as well as AWS and other cloud platforms – as evidence that they might be becoming receptive to the idea.
Altogether, supercloud is an exciting concept that has the potential to make it simpler and more affordable for organizations to leverage powerful computing infrastructure. This has to be good news all around, hopefully making it easier for innovators to bring us cloud-based tools and apps that further enrich our lives.