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Is it time for the operating system to get on the cloud?

From individuals looking for basic back-up services to companies looking to reduce costs by moving their IT backbones, cloud computing offers something for nearly everyone.

Image courtesy Steven Morris.

Software as a service (Saas), storage as a service (STaaS), and data as a service (DaaS) are becoming commonplace terms – and not just in IT shops. Scientists and researchers use infrastructure clouds with sophisticated tools and features specific to the scientific community. Also, CIOs and CEOs are tuned into – and likely taking advantage of – cloud technology and the conveniences and efficiencies it creates. They are keenly aware of its potential to provide reliable resources at huge cost savings.

The US government has become the most prominent state cloud user in the world, having saved billions of dollars since initiating the Cloud First project in 2010. Goals include closing approximately 1,000 data centers by 2015 and moving close to 80 services to the cloud (many moves are already complete). Likewise, developers are increasingly looking to flexible, cost-effective cloud resources. Developer-centric clouds offer infrastructures, configurations, tools, and services to create, test, and maintain code.

The National Science Foundation supports around 20 percent of all federally funded academic research, and an increasing portion of that funding now goes to research universities investigating various forms of cloud technology. For example, the Nimbus project focuses on cloud computing for science, offering open source tools and infrastructure versatility designed to meet the needs of its scientific community.

Cloud computing today provides nearly unlimited options, as well as highly customizable offerings. Perhaps you only need PaaS (platform as a service) and have no need for SaaS or IaaS. With cloud computing you pay only for the services you want and need. This approach creates value and flexibility, along with unanticipated benefits such as automatic updates, scalability, redundancy, remote access, and customization.

Image courtesy Frederica Olivieri.

For all of the advantages, however, cloud computing has still been missing a prominent piece of the puzzle – until now. Researchers Yaoxue Zhang and Yuezhi Zhou of Tsinghua University in Beijing have created TransOS, the first cloud based operating system.

Following the trend in applications, the researchers believe stripping out a personal computer’s operating system is the next logical step in cloud computing. Ultimately, operating system as a service (OSaaS) makes sense for those who are not concerned with where applications are running or files are stored.

The TransOS operating system code is stored in the cloud. As soon as you connect to the internet with a basic computer, you have access to TransOS. You can then call up code to access applications, data, files, or other cloud services – all with very little required from the basic computer or dumb terminal. On a traditional desktop or laptop, memory can be hogged by an operating system that is not doing much. When cloud applications run using TransOS, they call on TransOS code only when it is needed. This method limits memory usage and frees up the basic computer for other processing.

Personal computers are not the only thing TransOS creators have their eye on.  They envision a future in which industrial equipment, or even common household appliances, can dynamically connect to the internet and access TransOS, displaying up-to-date device information, maintenance suggestions, or reminders based on usage patterns. The TransOS team has yet to announce a formal release date, but 2013 looks likely.

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