In the Cloud
Consider what powers your laboratory. Each instrument has specific electrical needs, including emergency and uninterrupted power (UPS). Hospitals -- and everything else -- depend on the ubiquitous power grid. Imagine all electric power delivered locally using generators or town dams, and instrument downtime becomes a looming probability. Backups fail.
In 1960, computer scientist and Stanford professor John McCarthy suggested that computing power and even applications would be sold like a public utility, much like water or electricity. Like a power grid, computer functions and applications would be available everywhere, all the time.
It’s called “cloud computing,” and it’s here. If you haven’t heard of it, you will. Business Week, writing about Google in 2007, described it this way:
A move towards clouds signals a fundamental shift in how we handle information. At the most basic level, it's the computing equivalent of the evolution in electricity a century ago when farms and businesses shut down their own generators and bought power instead from efficient industrial utilities.
If you’re using any applications that run in your web browser over the Internet, you’re using cloud computing. These run on a grid containing hundreds of thousands, even millions of cheap computers that are replaced as they fail. It’s feasible to shift all your desktop work -- even the functionality of your entire hospital network -- from local hardware to the cloud. It means less infrastructure, less maintenance, fewer upgrades, lower cost.
For laboratories, this could be huge. I’ve blogged about Maine’s Health Infonet, an idea just beginning. But what if all information system software and data management was handled in the cloud? What if the information streamed where it was needed, much like power to our instruments?
The paradigm shift to cloud computing has been decades coming. I’d like to predict that it will define the future of the laboratory, but I was wrong about the Apple in 1977, when I asked a friend, “What on earth would you do with a personal computer?” We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’m doing all my writing in Google Docs. Hopefully, working in the cloud will keep my feet on the ground.