Cloud computing is a buzz-word that is being tossed around a lot lately, but what is it and what does it mean to your business? First, let’s take a look at what a cloud has to do with computing. The term goes back to the early days of the Internet when flow charts would use a cloud to represent anything that happened on the Internet. When network and computer systems designers were drawing flowcharts for hardware or software design, anything that happened on the Internet was considered outside the scope of the system and from that the metaphor of using a cloud to represent the Internet became commonplace.
Currently the term cloud computing is a methodology of computing where virtual, scalable resources are allocated as a service over the Internet. The most common use of the concept is Software as a Service (SaaS), but Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service are similar ideas which fall under cloud computing. But what does this mean to the casual consumer? Microsoft provides us with an easy example. For years, people have bought and installed Microsoft Office on their computers and they can still do that. But with their Office Live products, users are opening and sharing these documents in a virtual space that allows live collaboration with anyone in the world with access to their documents. As their storage and application needs grow, the service grows with them without having to buy more hardware.
The next step is when the actual software is on a server and you are running it through your browser. The advantage to this is the ability to work with the application, save, retrieve, and share files from any Internet connected computer in the world. And as your business needs grow, the platform and infrastructure is grown by the provider without the direct cost to the consumer. And while this increased capacity comes with a price, it is much more affordable than upgrading your own hardware in house, plus it is completely scalable, meaning you only buy what you need, when you need it.
As this methodology grows and is adopted by more businesses, we are swiftly reaching the promise of the Internet made years ago when all the business user needs is a small ‘internet appliance,’ the most basic of lightweight laptop computers. This coupled with a wireless Internet connection and you are plugged in and ready to work anywhere and anytime. The computer you use rarely needs to be upgraded or replaced because all of the upgrades occur at the provider level. These services will be scaled to the needs of the business and can be charged on a utility level per use, or subscription level per time. In either case the company saves the capital expenditures of large desktop computers, servers, and expensive software applications that become swiftly obsolete.
Even companies that need to have their own presence on the Internet no longer need to buy and host their own web and email servers or expensive and redundant Internet connections. Infrastructure as a service is a form of cloud computing where virtual, shared, or co-hosted servers are provided on demand. Just like with the Software as a Service, this solution is scalable to the needs of the client and the business pays just for what it needs. The webmaster or administrator simply accesses the servers remotely via a web interface and manages all aspects of the sites and email configuration as if they were sitting in front of the servers. Add to these advantages the climate control, redundant power, and managed backups of these Infrastructure as a Service providers and the value increases.
Any business that is starting out or looking at new hardware, software or infrastructure should strongly consider cloud computing. It is not only the wave of the future, it is here now, and provides value, greater accessibility, and easy, affordable growth.