A lot of our customers have been talking about “cloud computing” and asking us to explain it in some simpler terms. Some have even got caught up in the marketing hype, of shall we say, the larger cloud computing players. This really isn’t surprising when you start looking around the web for information on cloud computing, it can be quite confusing, full of marketing hype and sometimes, I would say, misleading.
Cloud computing, in its basic form
Let’s look at what cloud computing is. First off, the cloud is just really a term for the internet or externally hosted space. Why cloud? Well for those of you not from a technical background, it’s simply because when diagramming out networks etc, externally hosted content or the internet was drawn as a cloud.
In its basic form, and without any jargon, cloud computing is simply an externally hosted environment, accessed and connected to via the internet. That’s it. Oh, and it’s not a new idea by any means. If you think of it as this pure concept, cloud computing has been used since the birth of the internet. By hosting a web site, which contains content, on a third parties server, which is connected to and accessed by the internet, you effectively are using cloud computing.
So what is new?
Like many things in IT, the concept is nothing new; it isn’t even a new technology. What is new is the way we see that concept and the things we add, or take away. For example, think back to a time before Blogs were on the web. Many of us read news articles on the web, we may have even used forums and discussion boards but never blogged. But, blogging was a massive new thing, and with all the hype that went along with it, many people believed it was some new technology, something that had never been done before. In essence, a blog is just a news article that we can comment on, or it’s a forum where you don’t respond to one topic, you respond to an author’s topics. See, nothing new there. But something new is created, but it’s not a new technology, rather a new way of looking at things. The same is true of cloud computing.
Now things get a little complicated when people look at how companies provide their clouds. By this I mean, how the third party actually provides you with hosting space.
Looking at Amazon EC2 (Amazon Elastic Computer Cloud), we see that the implementation is to provide virtual machines for people on their hardware, effectively using one machine as many, expanding virtual machines to meet the usage demands. In this method, Amazon EC2 does give developers a lot of freedom to deliver software in any shape or form. The cloud really is a virtual machine.
Google offers its own cloud computing solution; however, developers have to deliver applications written in Python. This is very limiting, and in essence a developer is not presented with a personal machine, rather a space reserved for them on the Google servers.
Microsoft’s Azure provides a cloud platform that enables developers to deliver web based applications. As long as you wish to develop in Microsoft technologies, then Azure will provide all that you need to run your applications in the cloud. So this is a little bit of a mix between the Google solution, and the Amazon solution, however Microsoft bundle a lot of extras, such as storage services, Windows Live integration etc.
Please note at no point have I discussed other concepts that often get confused with cloud computing, concepts such as Parallel distributed computing, or Grid computing. We will talk about this another time….
Should you use cloud computing….
I see some real benefits, the obvious being accessibility to your content / applications. However, I see some real pitfalls too, most of which revolve around security, physical locations of content and the freedom to move away from a particular provider. The following article does highlight a number of concerns and issues for businesses. http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2009/03/27/235439/security-concerns-for-cloud-computing.htm
For the general public and even some small businesses, cloud computing makes real sense. They don’t have to invest in expensive hardware, backup and disaster recovery services nor payout for particular software.
A small business though will do well to look to standard webhosting environments and software development companies that provide external hosting of particular applications. My own company provides these services with our workFile ECM platform. We provide a Virtual Server on our externally hosted platform, and allow businesses to access and use all the typical content management functions across the internet. The difference here is that the storage space and physical location of the application and content is known at all times, it isn’t lost in the “cloud” as such. Also workFile is a highly secure repository, encrypting all content within its repository.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see massive potential for cloud computing, but more focused on delivering applications and storage space to the general public.
It’s all in the marketing…
As usual it’s how we market things and cost that determine how successful something is. In the case of “cloud computing” this really is true. However I have missed a trick, that’s for sure. My own company has provided “cloud computing” services and “cloud” applications for sometime. However, it has never been marketed as anything “new”. This is changing though, the language we use, and the way we describe these services will now be communicated as “cloud computing” and “cloud based applications”. And to deliver cloud based solutions, we won’t have to change a line of code….