"Cloud Computing" is definitely the buzzword "De Jour"...but there are very few of us who really understand what this is and how it works. So here is a little "Cloud 101" to hopefully allow a little better understanding of this phenomenon.
"Cloud Computing" means that instead of all the computer hardware and software you're using sitting on your desktop, or somewhere inside your company's network, it's provided for you as a service by another company and accessed over the Internet, usually in a completely seamless way. Exactly where the hardware and software is located and how it all works doesn't matter to you, the user—it's just somewhere up in the nebulous "cloud" that the Internet represents.
Simple examples of this might make understanding it a little easier. Many of us use "Cloud Computing" all day long; we just have no idea that we're doing it! Whenever we type in a Google search, the computer on your desk isn't playing much part in finding the answers you need: it's no more than a messenger. The words you type are swiftly shuttled over the Net to one of Google's hundreds of thousands of "clustered PCs", which dig out your results and send them promptly back to you. When you do a Google search, the real work in finding your answers might be done by a computer sitting in California, Dublin, Tokyo, or Beijing! You, the user, probably aren't giving it a second thought...you're just looking for your information quickly and efficiently!
Here's another newer "Cloud Computing" example...preparing documents over the Net! Just log on to a web-based service such as Google Documents and you can create a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or whatever you like using Web-based software. Instead of typing your words into a program like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice, running on your computer, you're using similar software running on a PC at one of Google's world-wide data centers. The document you produce is then stored remotely, on a Web server, so you can access it from any Internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world, any time you like. Do you know where it's stored? No! Do you care where it's stored? Again, no! Using a Web-based service like this means you're "contracting out" or "outsourcing" some of your computing needs to a company such as Google: they pay the cost of developing the software and keeping it up-to-date and they earn back the money to do this through advertising and other paid-for services.
So, now that we have a basic understanding of "Cloud Computing", why exactly do we need it?
Most importantly, the service you use is provided by someone else and managed on your behalf. If you're using Google Documents,for example, you don't have to worry about buying a bizillion licenses for word-processing software or keeping them up-to-date. Nor do you have to worry about viruses that might affect your computer or about backing up the files you create. Google does all that for you. One basic principle of cloud computing is that you no longer need to worry how the service you're buying is provided: with Web-based services, you simply concentrate on whatever your job is and leave the problem of providing dependable computing to someone else.
IT'S ON DEMAND
Cloud services are available on-demand and often bought on a "pay-as-you go" or subscription basis. So you typically buy cloud computing the same way you'd buy electricity, telephone services, or Internet access from a utility company. Sometimes cloud computing is free or paid-for in other ways (Hotmail is subsidized by advertising, for example). Just like electricity, you can buy as much or as little of a cloud computing service as you need from one day to the next. That's great if your needs vary unpredictably: it means you don't have to buy your own gigantic computer system and risk have it sitting there doing nothing.
IT'S PUBLIC OR PRIVATE
Now we all have PCs on our desks, we're used to having complete control over our computer systems—and complete responsibility for them as well. Cloud computing changes all that. It comes in two basic flavors, public and private, which are the cloud equivalents of the Internet and Intranets. Web-based email and free services like the ones Google provides are the most familiar examples of public clouds. The world's biggest online retailer, Amazon, became the world's largest provider of public cloud computing in early 2006. When it found it was using only a fraction of its huge, global, computing power, it started renting out its spare capacity over the Net through a new entity called Amazon Web Services. Private cloud computing works in much the same way but you access the resources you use through secure network connections, much like an Intranet. Companies such as Amazon also let you use their publicly accessible cloud to make your own secure private cloud, known as a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), using virtual private network (VPN) connections.
Of course, we offer "Cloud Computing Services" here at Alcala Consulting...so our views on the importance of this technology may be a little biased. Some of the benefits that we discuss with potential clients are listed below.
- Lower upfront costs and reduced infrastructure costs.
- Easy to grow your applications.
- Scale up or down at short notice.
- Only pay for what you use.
- Everything managed under SLAs. (Service Level Agreement)
- Overall environmental benefit (lower carbon emissions) of many users efficiently sharing large systems.
And here are some of the main concerns that are usually communicated during a consultation...
- Higher ongoing operating costs. Could cloud systems work out more expensive?
- Greater dependency on service providers. Can you get problems resolved quickly, even with SLAs?
- Risk of being locked into proprietary or vendor-recommended systems? How easily can you migrate to another system or service provider if you need to?
- What happens if your supplier suddenly decides to stop supporting a product or system you've come to depend on?
- Potential privacy and security risks of putting valuable data on someone else's system in an unknown location?
- If lots of people migrate to the cloud, where they're no longer free to develop neat and whizzy new things, what does that imply for the future development of the Internet?
- Dependency on a reliable Internet connection.
These valid concerns, along with any other questions you may have are all thoroughly discussed during our free consultation. We invite you to contact us today if you would like to learn more about how "Cloud Computing" can improve your business or non-profit.