During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I managed to get a blister on my toe which made walking quite difficult. I still needed to get around Washington so I decided to try the city bikes. It's been on the list to try for some time - in London we have the so-called Boris Bikes which provide a similar service but not near where I live.
I started cycling again in 2011 after almost a 20 year break. When I was 17, I was put off cycling the moment I started driving a car. Also to go any distance on a bicycle means sweating, which means special gear, a shower at the other end of the journey or just living with sweaty clothes. Since 2011, I've always changed into cycling gear to go out on the bike. I never get on one of my bikes without padding and these days I use SPDs so I need cycling shoes with cleats to lock me to the pedals.
The Washington City Bikes were great and comfortable to use. To sign up, I just inserted my credit card. I was worried about this because the Washington metro machines would not accept my credit card - it would fail at the Zip code stage because in the UK our postcodes are not just numbers. On the City Bike machines, the Zip code check is skipped for non-US people. All that is needed is a US telephone number. I have one of these personally, but of course you can put in your hotel's phone number if you are visiting.
It took under a minute to sign-up. The system gives you a code to unlock the bike. $7 of rental later and you are away on a bike with 30 minutes free of charge. Users are encouraged to make short trips with the bikes - this is what they are for really. After 30 minutes, your card is charged further tariffs which are not unreasonable. But each separate 30 minute journey is free.
I ended up using the bikes on 3 days and in fact after using them I did not use the metro again. There was a bike station within half a mile of my hotel and all the places I wanted to go had a bike station nearby. I cycled around the centre of Washington, past the White House and the central memorials. I felt very safe because provisions have been made for cyclists. On the busy roads, there are cycling lanes in the middle of the road.
On returning the bike to the stand, I realised how hassle-free it was. I paid for what I used and I didn't have to worry about maintaining the bike, punctures or anything else. There are also some nice smartphone applications that tell you where the nearest bike stations are and how many bikes are there.
In the Cloud Computing world we have very similar service models - the popular ones being IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. Respectively these stand for Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service. IaaS typically provides a customer virtual machines and elastic computing - you pay for the computing power you use and you can grow or shrink the number of instances you are using at any time. PaaS is a bit further up the stack and typically provides Operating Systems, Databases and Web Servers. SaaS supplies applications to customers, typically on a pay for use basis. The customers do not have to worry about the maintenance of computer hardware or power or storage - the service provider does all this for them. This blog is hosted on a PaaS service.
There were some disadvantages to my rides in Washington: The bikes are not very fast, I don't control the components of the bike so I have to take what I get and the old sweat problem reared its ugly head - in this case, in 35-degree heat my belt rusted due to sweat.
The City Bikes are a one size fits all solution and the advantages of using a City Bike far outweighed these disadvantages. If I wanted something more specialist, I could have rented a road bike and gear for more money.
Similarly, some may see disadvantages or loss of control with a Cloud Computing based solution but typically the solutions are mature enough to offer customers different options. So for example, it is possible to purchase an appropriate sized virtual machine for your application much in the same way that I could have rented a better bike from a more specialist company.
As businesses develop, they do not want to have the overheads of maintenance of IT. They want to focus on their core business. Much in the same way that I wanted to get around Washington on a bicycle without worrying about the maintenance of it.