A Brief Description Of ‘The Cloud’
18 February 2010
Well that’s a question that is thrown around within and outside of the IT field – there are so many arguments on its true definition, and many just won’t agree. You may here some people dismiss it as hype to suit their own objectives or others who will tell you to move everything to the cloud now.
In short ‘The Cloud’ allows you and your company access to IT systems, applications, data storage, processing and server resources without having to have them in your own premises. They are in effect owned and managed by a service provider in a data centre and you access them via the internet or another type of network to perform your business functions. You effectively pay a set fee per user, per server, or for an amount of computing resource on a monthly or quarterly basis.
What’s the big attraction and why is momentum building? It’s a big area and depends on your company but some of the main reasons typically being -
- Reduced Capex – no need to buy expensive hardware and software, as in effect in a cloud you can rent hardware and software.
- Increased Security – security has been a concern in the cloud, but if the cloud is managed correctly by an operation that understands security it’s not an issue. It’s likely to be much more secure than hosting and managing your own systems in-house.
- Flexibility – allows you to ramp your IT environment up and down more or less at will without great expense.
- Outsourced Hassle – allows your internal IT team to focus on strategic projects rather than day to day management of the commodity parts of your IT environment, such as server maintenance, backup checking and security updates.
- Top-end Infrastructure – Gain access to high-end IT infrastructure, systems, resilience, software and security but without the large multi-national company price-tag.
- Reduced ongoing Costs – To run servers and other systems, manage them, upgrade them, cool them, provide protected power, multiple resilient network connections, and complex security systems is expensive. In the cloud all this is taken care of at a fraction of the cost.
The cloud isn’t really a single entity as much of the marketing allows you to believe. A cloud comes in many forms and will typically fall into one the categories below :-
Private Cloud: Those that are hosted by your company or more often hosted through a managed hosting partner for you. Typically the service providers host an individual IT environment for you, i.e. perhaps your critical email server, database systems, etc.
Public Clouds: Allow different companies and software developers to connect into a shared computing infrastructure and data storage system hosted by a service provider. Companies such as Amazon and Microsoft provide this type of service.
Hybrid Cloud: Such as linking your own private cloud with a third party public cloud, or linking multiple public clouds.
The cloud services can be delivered to you the customer in many ways, typically one of the following :-
Software as a Service (SaaS): Typically delivering a single service or application via a web browser – a good example being SalesForce or Hosted Microsoft CRM services. Services such as Hotmail and Google Apps can also be classed as SaaS.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) : Is where key IT infrastructure components, such as servers, firewalls and storage are hosted in a secure data centre and delivered to you or your customers via the internet or private data connections. QuoStar’s Managed Infrastructure Services, Amazon’s Web Services and QuoStar’s Hosted Desktop service are IaaS.
Platform as a Service (PaaS): This allows software developers to build applications within the cloud without having to have the servers or server applications, such as database systems sat in their companies with all the expense that it brings, such as CapEx and management.
So, is The Cloud just marketing hype? Yes to some degree it is, as in reality the concept is more than ten years old – some could argue 20 years (or more).
Is it a reality and going to affect to your business? For sure, no matter what your size. Faster and cheaper internet, cheaper computing, rising energy costs, system complexities and the simple fact that IT is more central to business than ever means that it’s pretty much unstoppable.
I’m not saying that you need to move all of your IT infrastructure to the cloud right now as you don’t. I do however believe that if you are thinking about some sort of IT investment, either hardware, software, network, or a business system then you should consider cloud services as an option. If you are not looking at an investment right now then you should still be open to listening to the ‘hype’ as opportunities for a competitive advantage will arise.