On a sunny day like today, this is one cloud that you won’t mind seeing … Cloud computing is the new buzz word, it’s cooler than reality TV shows and it’s being billed as the key to the future of IT, but what exactly is Cloud Computing? The following questions and key concepts will hopefully put to rest some of your own questions. What is Cloud Computing? The term “cloud” refers to the internet. Cloud Computing therefore refers to your computing needs being accessed through the internet. In the same way a cloud covers over a vast area a single internet server can be used to supply users with access to whatever they need from one “cloud” location. Why use a cloud? Three main reasons: 1. It allows you to outsource the burden of maintaining servers and applications 2. It allows you to scale up (or down) your software services relatively cheaply and easily 3. You can access the service from anywhere, you are not restricted by the location/license of the software The idea is that businesses should not be spending valuable resources (time, money, manpower) on installing and maintaining complex hardware and software when there are specialist providers who can do that for them allowing them to concentrate on operational issues instead. Although there are other benefits of cloud computing these are widely recognised as the main ones. So then what are the disadvantages/dangers of using a cloud? The most commonly stated issue with companies not wanting to use cloud computing is security and safety of information. Could a government agency that holds personal information on millions of people really risk holding all that information in a location that is accessed through the net? The advocators of cloud computing would argue that it’s just as easy for a CD containing personal information to go astray in the post or for someone to leave a file on a train or a bar. To counter this a lot of cloud computing companies are offering cloud services which are held at the organisations site thus still offering the benefits in terms of usability and access but without forfeiting any potential security of information. What is SaaS, PaaS & IaaS? SaaS stands for Software-as-a-Service. The simplest example of this is Google Apps; Gmail, Google Docs – think MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint except its been Googled! All storage facilities are held on the web but all modifications are made through the Google browser facilities. This offers organisations the ability to outsource their mail, network space and storage (i.e. the bane of most of our working lives) to someone that quite clearly specialises in this field. PaaS is Platform-as-a-Service. An example of this is the platform that Apple offer for users to develop Apps. You can download the software to your hard drive or you can use their platforms through their site. The advantage of this, to the consumer at least, is that often professional packages can have very expensive licenses thus limiting the number of users whereas offering them the platform on the web means that they can use it as they need it at a fraction of the cost of the product itself. IaaS is Infrastructure-as-a-Service. An example of this is EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) the infrastructure cloud that Amazon developed to offer users virtual servers that they can use on a pay-as-you-go service. In addition to EC2 Amazon also offer something called S3 – Simple Storage Service which, as the name suggest, is a virtual filing cabinet. Essentially Amazon have used their lean production systems learning from Amazon.com and applied them to infrastructure provision. Clearly Amazon is in the business of using web space and storage for their own operational activities so why not let others use this at a cost that is reflective of the efficiencies that only Amazon can bring with it. How many people can use a cloud at any one time? Essentially it is limitless as long as you have the appropriate server space. Taking the example of Salesforce.com, offering web-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, they have multiple users who access the cloud but they can only access their own data through their own licensing agreements but there is not a cloud per user or contract, it will be one cloud which can be accessed at multiple levels. What is the benefit of multiple user access to these clouds? Cost. Thinking of Small & Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s), one SME alone may not be able to afford to implement a change to the service they are being offered but if the change is needed by a number of these companies then they can share the development cost. What sectors will it affect?
Clearly the Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) industry has been impacted heavily by cloud computing but a noticeably large sector representing telecoms services seems to have escaped the effect although this is an area that draws contentious debate as some argue that mobile phone networks like O2, Vodafone, T-Mobile etc all essentially use the same satellite network which is no different to how different business users would use one cloud. This is certainly an area that cloud computing practitioners believe will be the focus in the coming decade, especially if the projected growth in the industry is to be believed. Industry analysts believe that what was a $16 billion industry in 2008 (accounting for 4% of all consumers spending in IT) will grow three-fold to $42 billion by 2012, accounting for 9% of consumers spending.