You may have noticed the term 'cloud' or 'cloud computing' circulating around popular media. This has become an increasingly popular term and is used quite frequently by Microsoft in their recent advertising campaigns in order to create buzz. Although it is a widely used term it is not a widely understood concept. What makes cloud computing unique, or how does it work? Is it just a new term that means the internet or online?

According to Wikipedia cloud computing is web-based processing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand over the Internet. In other words, using a web browser instead of software directly installed on your computer. Many companies have already utilized a type of cloud computing by installing software on a server and allowing remote access. Even though the software is not installed on the user’s computer they can still access it using an internet connection. The benefits of cloud computing is that it allows you to access information from anywhere with internet access or on a smart phone. All essential programs and software are kept on a secure server for easy access from any location at anytime.

The idea is not new, and in fact, it has been around since the 1980's. Thanks to the recent upgrades in internet speeds cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular. It was not possible before because even just ten years ago downloading a song over the internet took an hour instead of just a few seconds on a wonderful dial-up connection. It is the increased speed that has made cloud computing possible and viable.

With modern smart phones being able to access the internet from any location at faster speeds than our old computers used to be able to it is becoming clear that cloud computing will become, and may already be, the new norm. Many of us are already using cloud computing in one form or another. A common example of cloud computing are some apps, whether on your phone, Facebook or any other system. Fifteen years ago the idea of having a game that constantly updated your information and could be accessed from any location was limited to simple browser based games that operated using mostly text. Today even apps such as "Farmville" can be considered a type of cloud computing.

Cloud computing is a tool that constantly updates your information on a server 24/7 and allows you to access that information from any location in the world with an internet connection. Why leave cloud computing to chickens and cows on Farmville when you can use it with a client to heighten energy awareness and provide yourself with limitless information? Continuous Energy Management and Optimization (CEMO) uses cloud computing to constantly update a buildings energy performance information on a database allowing 24/7 access on a web-based platform. The CEMO system display energy consumption and costs, all in real-time and displays historic information on an everyday web-browser. The CEMO system has the ability to monitor anything that can be metered. For any energy performance specialist this can prove to be a priceless tool. Tracking building performance 24/7 from any location in the world is now possible thanks to the power of cloud computing.

Silas Inman
Forward Energy Solutions, Inc.
Sustaining Tomorrow with Energy Solutions Today

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Tags: cloud, computing, efficiency, energy, information, management, monitoring, savings, technology, the


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Comment by Silas Inman on November 4, 2010 at 9:29am
Perhaps I have been staring at whole system loads for too long. From looking at changes in consumption I can generally pick out the AC, Furnace and even refrigerators. Those few devices are easy to see from the peaks. Some of our engineers can go even more in depth and narrow information down to dampers and other devices just from looking at whole system information. I do not have this type of prowess, but that is why we have an entire NOC of Facility and Mechanical engineers.

I am not suggesting that the means off accessing the cloud is a definition of the cloud. The cloud is in fact a marketing term that is being used to describe an IT function that has been around for 30 years. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand, like electricity. Those resources or software are stored on a remote server and accessed using an internet browser. Not every website allows user to access resources and software, so not every website is on the cloud. There are also many different applications for the cloud.

I think we can at least agree that it is just a marketing term. :) And to be honest, when I first heard it on the Microsoft commercials, where the woman says, to the cloud, it rather annoyed me.
Comment by Chris Jefferies on November 4, 2010 at 3:43am

I would challenge the concept of tracking the difference in kW based on the On/Off of an appliance. A refrigerator for instance cycles on and off at somewhat regular intervals. At night, perhaps is slows the cycles. So at the end of a week, or month, you really won't be able to tell what portion of your total KWhs would be for the refrigerator. We need cheap sensors throughout the house.

Yes, I was focused on the Envi as I am dedicated to building an affordable and comprehensive approach to remote monitoring into residential settings.

The cloud... By your definition, the cloud is accessed via a browser, but so is every web site. That would mean every site you've ever used on the browser was in "the cloud" (because every web site IS an application of at least HTML, and more and more often a conglomeration of compiled code that accessed databases and web services to aggregate the data). The "cloud" can now offer virtualization technologies which were not part of the traditional web delivery available in the past. Now they can also break it down and meter the CPU cycles, the bandwidth, the storage, etc.

Another way to look at it; my system sends the data it collects to an internet available web service which is basically an API wrapper around an SQL server database. You can get to a web page from anywhere in the world, from any internet enabled device, that displays that data. No "cloud" involved...

The collection sequence: Sensor > Wifi Router > Internet > web service > database

The analysis sequence: Browser > internet > website > database

The cloud is just a different hosting method for applications and in my software development world, marketing buzz. ;)

In the house, the classic old school approach for moving data was to collect it from the device into the table-top display. From there it goes into a computer via USB. From the computer it hooks up to a router (perhaps wifi) and from there, out to the internet. What my "gateway" device does, is go from the sensor to the gateway (wirelessly) and then to the internet. I suspect your new Envi device does something similar; from the sensors (CTs), to the Envi, to a an ethernet cable, to a router, to the internet.

My Gateway device is taking the place of a traditional PC computer because it is, in fact it a tiny computer that runs a small embedded linux operating system (called openWRT). It consumes about 4W. The gateway can collect the data from the sensors, send data to the internet, and it can act as your in-house wifi router.

I hope this makes sense. I feel like I'm just explaining the same thing in different ways.

Comment by Silas Inman on November 3, 2010 at 9:38am
Hi Chris,
Thank you for adding some feedback, and although you make some good points I feel as if your assumptions are based on incorrect information. I will move down your post bit by bit. You seem to be discussing the Envi home energy monitor, this blog entry was about the Continuous Energy Management & Optimization (CEMO) system. These are two completely different systems.

You seem to have some misconceptions about the Envi, it is used primarily as a whole house system, but it can have other applications. The display device can accept up to 10 separate transmitters. This allows you to break down your consumption by circuit or even device, allowing you to see those individual energy hogs such as entertainment systems or furnaces. Anything with an electric current can be monitored. Simple deductive reason can also help you pin-point those devices. If I am using 1 kWh one minute and my furnace kicks on and now I am using 5 kWhs it doesn't take much to decide that my furnace is consuming 4 kWhs.

As of right now I would not categorize the Envi as using the cloud directly, which is one of the reasons I did not write the article about the Envi. In the next month, however, a device will be released for the Envi that will send information directly to the cloud. From here you can open a web browser and view the information, in real-time, without hooking the device up to a computer.

The price will increase slightly from $129, but should still be less than $200. Since it will be uploading to a remote server (cloud) it will also be accessible from mobile devices, and if you use Google PowerMeter you will be able to access your information using iGoogle on a remote device such as iPhone or iPad. If an individual wanted to purchase servers and set up their own cloud computing center it would be extremely expensive! That is why we use the Google and Pachube. In fact, upon purchasing the system the ability to view your information from anywhere at anytime will be completely free!

The problem seems to be generating with the term "App". Although Facebook apps are called apps they truly are not the type of apps you would find on a mobile device. On an Iphone, for instance, you need to download the app. The apps on Facebook do not store any information on the users computer, in fact, if I wanted, I could open Facebook and use the same app at work that I use at home without any loss of information, because that information is stored on remote servers (the cloud).

Yes, the term "the cloud" is a term going around, I am not sure if I would call it a buzz word quite yet though. I did capitalized on this word, as stated early on in the entry, because many users aren't sure what it even is. Essentially it is accessing your data remotely without installing anything more than a web browser. "The Cloud" is just an IT term used to describe remote servers that users can access remotely and which information is sent to processed and stored on for remote access. It allows users to use software or access information that is not on their computer, but is on the server. My company uses the Cloud for Microsoft office and Quickbooks, none of this software is actually located on my computer but I can still access and use it on the cloud.

The CEMO system does this for your energy information. It stores your information on a secure server where you can access that information from any location in the world via a simple web-browser. Soon, the Envi will have this same functionality.

I hope this has helped clear up some of your misconceptions. Since this is a "Home Energy Pro" website I can understand your initial thoughts towards the home system. I put this on here because I feel many home energy pros actually work on commercial projects as well from time to time. Thanks again for your input.
Comment by Chris Jefferies on November 3, 2010 at 1:43am
Sorry to be negative in what should be a positive move, that being the savings of energy for every one.

However your solution, like many others, is a whole house answer to tracking energy usage (at least for the residential system). It will be difficult to track what the furnace, or the entertainment system, or the refrigerator are using.

Additionally you add the marketing buzz about "the cloud" and gloss over what's really going on in that space. So far, cloud computing is still more expensive than standard load-balanced web sites. The "cloud" sounds cool but it's still practicably not reasonable for all but the likes of Google's back end systems. Your description of the cloud also confuses the idea of a mobile device that might access an app in "the cloud". No one that I know is installing desktop, or mobile apps to run in the memory space of the cloud. Web apps, yes. Web services (which deliver data to apps), yes. But it's really not a simple process to run the "app" in the cloud. For the near term, performance is best utilized in the memory of your mobile device, or your small form PC; even in an embedded linux system or in a microcontroller environment. Finally, consumers, I suspect, will not care a flip if the application uses the cloud. They want it to be cheap, to just work, and to inform them about their real-time energy usage.

The price of your residential system is quite reasonable at $129.00. In the long run, however, it seems that a physical, proprietary, table-top display will outlive it's usefulness. Unless you can update the software within, it will become just another dead device in an old shoe box after a few years. How about just replacing that with an iPad or an iPhone app; an app that outlives the devices upon which they run.

The connectivity of the to Google PowerMeter is a great step because the web app can be updated as new features are developed but you make it sound like you have to hook it up to a computer which then manually "exports" the data into Google's PowerMeter charting service. If that's the case, I fear most will find that way too tedious.

The price is right and the connection to Google PowerMeter is great, but the overall package seems weak.

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