The Basics about Cloud Computing

I was recently asked by a business owner if he should move into the “cloud”.  After a lengthy discussion, I realized even though this is a current topic and there are many articles about cloud computing, it still seems to be confusing for many.  So for those who are wondering if cloud computing is for them, the following is what I will call Cloud Computing 101.

What is cloud computing? Well right off, there are various and numerous definitions. In the same breath you will hear about, hosted solutions, managed solutions, virtualization, Internet Service Providers (ISP), Software as a Service (SaaS), grid computing, utility computing, security, and platforms, just to name a few.  We will discuss all of these and more in later postings, but first what is most important is seeing if cloud computing is right for you. So in the spirit of simplicity, here are definitions for cloud computing.

First a definition from Wikipedia:  

Cloud computing is Internet- ("cloud-") based development and use of computer technology ("computing"). In concept, it is a paradigm shift whereby details are abstracted from the users who no longer have need of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption and delivery model for IT services based on the Internet, and it typically involves the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources as a service over the Internet.

Whoa that was clear!  Try this one:

Cloud computing consists of shared computing resources that are virtualized and accessed as a service, through an API.

 If it is still not clear try this analogy; for people who have a home, and you if do your own lawn care then you might own the following pieces of equipment; a rake,  shovels,  a hoe, hoses, lawn mower, fertilizer spreader, an edger, leaf blower, seed, fertilizer and other variety of tools. Instead of owning all this equipment and taking up the time to maintain your lawn, you can hire someone to do this and therefore pay a fee per application usage, letting the lawn care company provide all the equipment and materials and work. The benefit to you is no cost for the all the equipment; they come when you want them and you only pay if the service is performed to your satisfaction. You can spend that saved time golfing or just reading a few novels.  Now the equivalent for an IT enterprise is they must have servers, cables, infrastructure, routers, switches, a data center, massive power supplies, and software applications to support the various lines of businesses.  Cloud computing is like the lawn care company; all the hardware (except for some form of a terminal), applications and services are in the internet cloud.

Again, the benefits of cloud computing to the enterprise are: scalable, instant access and cost savings.  A little more about the proposed benefits:  Scalable, in the current environment, as your business grows and more people use your systems you will need to add more servers, more connections to support the additional traffic and more infrastructures. This impacts your costs and eventually a limit to the amount of scaling you can actually achieve.  With cloud computing you not only can scale but you only pay for what you are actually using.

Instant access; again in the current environment, applications might not be available or limited to the number of users it can support or not even exist. Cloud computing you can have access to applications you currently use and even new applications.

Costs; your capital expenditures decrease considerably and you are paying on a usage basis, thus you are maximizing on your returns. For small businesses the barrier to entry is greatly reduced and thus one can compete with larger enterprises, by using the same applications.

Now like anything in life, there are pros and cons.  Cloud computing might not be good for every enterprise. One example is, a small or medium enterprise that has an efficient infrastructure might find that cloud computing could be more expensive than the current mode of operation. Another consideration is your installed quality of communication versus the quality of communication services or service level agreement (SLA) that is provided by the cloud provider. Other issues to consider are what type of security and maintenance are being provided by the “cloud”?

Like I have said many times before, first make sure you have a strategy and see if cloud computing supports the strategy.  Key factors in determining if cloud computing is right for you are:  the need for scalability, access to applications, availability of skilled IT resources, security, service level agreements, economics, reliability, and maintenance.

But at the end of the day the real issue is cost; is your cost to run your IT for today and tomorrow less then the potential cost of using the “cloud”?

Next time we will go into the next level of discussion regarding cloud computing.

RHL 2/9/10

  1. www.appistry.com

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