Manufacturing Processes—Production and Business: Cloud Manufacturing, Part 1

Manufacturing Processes—Production and Business: Cloud Manufacturing, Part 1

By Bob Sproull

This post is the first in a new series on a subject referred to as cloud manufacturing. I will begin this series by defining the cloud and cloud computing, before moving on to discussing manufacturing in the cloud.

Just what is the cloud?

When I first heard the cloud in a technology context, it was strange to hear a term that referred to a murky object in the sky before a storm. As the term became pervasive in the media and in business and personal circles, I learned that the cloud was one of those techie terms that people use but can’t necessarily explain.

In its most basic form, the cloud refers to software and services that run on the internet instead of a local computer. The cloud is a network of servers with some providing an online service, like Match.com or Phoenix University, while others allow you to store and access data, like Instagram or Dropbox. For example, if you take a photo on your smartphone, it is automatically saved on your phone’s internal memory drive. But if you post it to a site like Facebook, you are actually uploading it to the cloud. Or, if you have an email account with Gmail or Yahoo and you use their web interfaces, your emails are actually stored in the cloud.

Our lives are in the cloud, and that’s a good thing

So again, the cloud simply refers to software and services that store and manage information and run on the internet instead of your computer. You may be very surprised at just how much of your “stuff” is in the cloud. Much of the information about you that is stored in the cloud is information you didn’t create. For example, health care providers store your medical records and insurance companies store your claims in the cloud. Your friends who post photos of you and your family on social media accounts store this information in the cloud. Having your personal information stored in the cloud might seem risky, but in reality, it’s actually better protected against hackers and cyber thieves (or a hard drive crash) in the cloud than it would be on a local server, or on your home computer.

A new way to imagine the size and scope of the cloud

With the cloud, instead of storing your information on your computer’s hard drive or your phone's memory, your information is stored in massive data centers around the world. These companies' servers are so big that, according to researchers at Villanova University, they are responsible for more than 2% of the United States' electricity usage. To put this into perspective, according to Ed Turkel of Hewlett-Packard, if the global cloud computing industry was a single country, it would be the fifth-largest country in the world in terms of energy consumption!

It’s ironic that something so complex makes our lives simpler

Before we had these cloud storage services, we saved all of our files on our own computers. It still seems not long ago when I would save a file to a USB key in order to transfer it to another computer. Or else I would email it to myself. Today, cloud computing simplifies such work, enabling us to save a file on a remote server, which can then be accessed from another computer. This is really a microcosm of the topics I’ll be covering in this series.

You may be wondering how safe your personal information is in the cloud? The truth is that most cloud storage and software providers have excellent security records, for individuals and for businesses.

So, how does all of this tie into cloud manufacturing? Well, it's not just consumers who are using the cloud. Today, businesses like manufacturing companies are replacing their internal servers and locally installed software with cloud-based technology, and they are reaping substantial benefits.

Coming in the next post

In Part 2 of this series, I will examine the basics of cloud computing and its core concepts, and then explore the fundamentals of cloud computing in manufacturing.

Until next time.

Bob Sproull

Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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