If you’ve been paying any attention to current IT trends over the past few years, there is no doubt you’ve heard the term “cloud computing”. There is also no doubt that it’s one of the hottest IT buzzwords floating around out there, today. But what exactly is the cloud, and what are some of the advantages, and precautions, your business should take when evaluating whether to use cloud computing?
To put it simply, cloud computing is using a cluster of resources that may or may not be local to your IT infrastructure to perform IT functions on demand. Think of it this way – in the past, many companies had dedicated servers that performed certain functions, such as financial backend processing to a project. Companies had to plan for peak usage, redundancy, growth, etc. This usually meant that companies were investing large amounts of money in IT infrastructure, that could sit idle for long periods of time.
Cloud computing helps with some of these problems by providing resources that exist not as a singularity, but as a pool. These resources may or may not be owned by your company – some of the biggest cloud resource providers right now are Amazon and Microsoft. Instead of having a dedicated box or multiple servers, when programs or other IT processes need resources, they simply reach out to the “cloud” and request them.
These resources can grow and shrink dynamically in many cases. Need more disk space? Just request more. Need more processing power? No problem. It’s like a pay-as-you-go model. You are only paying for what you need, when you need it.
Cloud computing also helps with redundancy and failover as you are no longer dependent on a single machine. The cloud is allocating resources from the pool of available resources that may be located at multiple data centers around the world.
Of course the biggest concern with the cloud is the security and privacy of data. Public clouds, such as those owned by Amazon and Microsoft, are located outside of your company, and there are concerns about the privacy and security of data. There is also the question of, “what happens if the cloud provider goes out of business tomorrow?” – can your company simply switch providers, or are you so integrated with that provider it could cause significant problems?
To address some of these concerns, companies are looking at private clouds. These private clouds work in much the same way as public clouds, but they are usually owned and operated by the business itself. The company may have servers and other resources that are not dedicated to specific tasks, but rather are part of resource pools that are available for any IT process to use. You often see such a setup implemented with virtualization technology and blade computing. It can bring many of the benefits of the cloud into the company while still providing peace of mind about security and data integrity issues.
As the cloud continues to grow in popularity, we will no doubt see more businesses beginning to take advantage of its capabilities. You probably are already using some cloud functionality, and may even know it. Web mail providers such as Yahoo, Microsoft Live and Gmail, and photo sharing services like Flickr all use some cloud functionality. The cloud is everywhere - just be careful to watch for occasional thunderstorms!