If your business is like a lot of others I know, your need for computing power swings up and down and all over the place. Maybe you have a Christmas rush to get orders through on your website. Maybe your traffic spikes every time you post a new update to your webcomic or online game. Maybe your company got mentioned on TV and you suddenly have 100 times your normal visitors.

Traditionally, your server administrators would caution you to buy a big enough server to handle spikes. After all, you can’t afford to miss out on your best sales and popularity peaks, even though you only use the full capacity once a year.

Cloud computing offers something a little different. It treats computer power the same way the power company treats your electricity – they provide more than you could ever use, they offer the power to a wide base of people, and you pay only for what you actually consume. If you think about it, this is a much more efficient (and cheaper) way to get the computing power that you need.

There are a few big players in cloud computing right now, and Amazon is at the forefront with their proprietary Amazon Cloud and related products. But cloud computing is about to bust wide open, because of OpenStack.

OpenStack is a new operating system designed to manage cloud computing, and it’s open source. Free. Available to everyone. It’s trying to do for cloud computing what Linux did for traditional servers. It’s been around for a couple of years, but recently it’s left the realm of “something some nerds are working on for fun” to become a really viable platform with, for example, a graphical dashboard that can be used by someone with basic computer knowhow.

To give you an idea of the OpenStack user experience, I suggest you check out their demo video.

In practical terms, what this means is that soon everybody and their great-aunt will be offering cloud hosting. Companies can even use it in-house, although that kind of defeats the whole “sharing” concept unless you have a large enough in-company user base.

So keep your eye out for some great deals and innovation in the area of cloud computing. And expect it to be powered by OpenStack.

by Sharon Campbell