I’ll apologise upfront as there is lots of jargon in this post, but if you are interested in the benefits of cloud and you don’t want to be cloud-jacked it should be a useful read. It’s not all about technology and strange new terms. The cloud provides significant business benefits.
Cloud Computing Definition
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA defines cloud computing as follows:
Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or cloud provider interaction.
Four Cloud Models
The differences are about scope and access:
- Private – for a single organisation e.g. Logica private cloud.
- Public – is accessible to the general public e.g. Salesforce.com, Google Apps, Amazon EC2.
- Hybrid – some resources are managed in-house and others are provided externally, perhaps for information security reasons.
- Community – the infrastructure is shared by several organisations often in a similar sector e.g. Google Apps for the US Government
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – virtual servers (e.g. Rackspace).
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) – databases (e.g. Azure, Amazon RDS) and programming (e.g. Azure, force.com).
- Software as a Service (SaaS) – applications (e.g. Eventforce.com and numerous other examples).
Of the three types, SaaS provides the most business benefits by providing IT on Demand without the management overhead of deploying and managing infrastructure, platform and applications. It is really important to bear in mind that to get the maximum benefits you need to understand the constraints and accept that you may not get a 100% fit to your requirements. However, remember that these services are under constant development and if the market is not demanding it, you have to ask yourself whether it is really required. It’s good to apply the 80/20 rule.
Attractive Commercial Terms
The traditional approach to IT is about building solutions from the ground up (network, platform and applications). This takes a time, effort, capital investment and planning e.g. working out how many servers and how much bandwidth is required at peak times. Public SaaS solutions provide all that for you. Instead you pay based on usage, like your water bills (hence the term commodity services). This can be performance, bandwidth, storage, users i.e. you pay for what you use and you can be set up and ready to go in minutes e.g. Salesforce.com. Perhaps stating the obvious, to maximise the business benefit you have to consider how it’s going to be used and integrated with other systems and processes, but at least if it doesn’t work out you have only spent a relatively small amount and money.
I could go on and talk about some of the issues with cloud. For example, you can’t choose to sweat your IT assets, but I think this is long enough already.
What’s the difference between a virtual server and cloud?
It’s the technology on the first rung of the cloud ladder – IaaS. However, the commercials and service need to be cloud-like. On IaaS you should be able to set up a server in minutes and pay for usage. Some suppliers treat them just like normal servers ie wait for them to be setup, months, and long contracts. Plus, we use virtual servers in offices but own the physical hardware – ie two virtual servers on on physical server.