Amazon Exec Predicts Cloud Computing Revolution Credit: Dreamstime.com

SAN FRANCISCO — Cloud computing will bring about an IT revolution akin to the industrial shift ushered in by the centralized electrical grid, experts say.

Before the grid was set up in the 19th century, American businesses typically generated their own electricity. Similarly, many companies today manage and maintain their own data centers to collect, store, analyze and share information.

But just as the electrical grid obviated the need for company-specific generators, the growth of cloud computing capabilities should consign most on-site data centers to the dustbin of history, according to Andy Jassy, senior vice president of cloud-computing giant Amazon Web Services.

"We're at the beginning of a titanic shift," Jassy told a crowd here at the 2011 NASA IT Summit yesterday (Aug. 16). "We believe that most of the computing is moving to the cloud."

The new IT?

This shift is occurring because cloud computing saves companies time and money and makes them more flexible, Jassy said.

Traditionally, companies have had to spend a lot of capital to set up and manage their own data centers, according to Jassy. They had to guess at their future capacity needs when doing this — and these guesses had to be fairly accurate, lest the company waste money maintaining excess infrastructure or incur customer wrath by not having enough.

But cloud computing frees firms from that capital outlay, and from the need to make spot-on predictions. Companies just pay a cloud provider for whatever services they need at the time, and they can scale up or down quickly. Essentially, the cloud allows users to rent, rather than buy, capacity.

As a result, companies can focus their limited resources on needed missions rather than on infrastructure maintenance, Jassy said. And firms have easy access to vast computing power, enabling improved data analysis.

"The cloud allows you to find all the diamonds in the rough in that data," Jassy said. "It's a big game-changer."

NASA hops aboard

Of course, Jassy is not an unbiased observer, since Amazon Web Services would love to herd more businesses into the cloud. However, some users back up his assessment of the cloud's potential.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), for example, has embraced the cloud with open arms. Last year, JPL scientists began using cloud capabilities to handle and analyze data gathered by the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

And JPL, which works with Amazon Web Services along with several other cloud vendors, has also employed the cloud to help prepare for its next Mars rover mission, JPL IT chief technology officer Tomas Soderstrom said. That mission, called Mars Science Laboratory, will drop the car-size Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface in August 2012.

Soderstrom echoed Jassy's belief that cloud computing is the wave of the future, and that more and more businesses and government agencies will get onboard soon.

"The cloud is a total game-changer, and we're right at the beginning," Soderstrom said.

This story was provided by SPACE.com, sister site to BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.