7 Minutes

One of the most challenging aspects of the current push towards cloud computing is the confusing marketing aspect of it. The answer to every question is 'cloud' and there is little clarity around what is meant.'Cloud Computing' has become as much a marketing buzzword as it is a technology.

So, let's simplify the cloud a bit and make some sense of it!To start with, there are really 3 layers to the cloud offerings - At the base is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is basically getting hardware through the cloud, such as computing power itself,storage and networking components. Companies use this layer to avoid purchasing servers or storage, opting to pay for what they need instead. 

Next is platform as a service (PaaS). This is the platform that enables the development of applications without investing in the actual hardware and software that would otherwise be required, enabling the testing and deployment of software. 

Finally is software as a service (SaaS) which is the most commonly thought of part of the cloud. These are the applications we use,including many common ones such as Salesforce.com, twitter, Netflix, hulu,Office 365, Hotmail (now Outlook.com) and others.  

Basically, for most of us, the cloud looks just like our internal environment, servers, tools, and applications, right? 

Exactly! Nothing mysterious about it. However, there are 5 characteristics to the cloud that fundamentally differentiate it from on premise computing! Cloud Services are:
1.  On Demand Self Service. A consumer can provision computing capabilities automatically without requiring human interaction with the service vendor. Specific expertise may (often will) be required, but it is done by your IT staff, not the vendors.

2.  Broad Network Access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms such as mobile phones, laptops, computers, or other mobile devices.

3. Resource Pooling. The provider's computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.

4.  Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be rapidly provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.

5.  Measured Service. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service. 

From an IT perspective, items 3 and 4 are the real differentiators. On premise computing and applications simply don't act that way, you have to buy hardware to ramp up, purchase licenses, and live with the fact that your computing power may be sub-optimized or overwhelmed based on specific timing of user need and quality of hardware purchased. Item 5 is what makes it all work from a business perspective, enabling us to pay for exactly what we used when we used it. 

So, cloud computing is not complex, it is just offering the same capability set we are used to from on premise in a different model. Most of us have been using cloud for years (anyone use Gmail or Hotmail?).  

To keep this brief, I want to close with one other reality check - the question to ask is not 'cloud or not' but what should be in the cloud and what should not. For the vast majority of business, the cloud will simply be an integrated part of our computing strategy, not a replacement for on premise. There are many complexities and capabilities that are not best managed via a cloud solution. However things like collaboration, off site backup and storage, and perhaps in many cases key applications or email may be perfect fits for the cloud. 

Make the discussion around cloud part of your annual IT planning discussions. If you lack expertise in house, bring it in and ensure you have a clear understanding of how cloud computing should and will be part of your company's future! 

And always make sure you are practicing happy computing!
Richard Brunke

Staff Writer

Written by Staff Writer