There are many definitions as to what constitutes “Cloud Computing”. Some organizations say that server failover clustering is a requirement. Others say that metered services are required. At its core, cloud computing simply means that these products/services are hosted on the web and you pay for what you use (to varying degrees).
Cloud computing and virtualization are not the same. All cloud computing environments use virtualization to some degree, but there are many examples of virtualization that are not cloud. Server and application virtualization are just one of the many tools used to create a cloud environment. Virtualization technologies make it possible to easily create redundancies which would otherwise be very costly. Virtualization also allows for relatively quick deployment. Cloud servers can be deployed in minutes where physical dedicated servers can take days or even weeks to deploy.
Types of cloud computing
Cloud Application Platforms and Databases
Services like Microsoft’s Windows Azure
allow you to create .NET based applications and host them on their cloud “fabric”. This is a fantastic way to make an application that is highly scalable. When you need more power behind your application, just add more resources. Plus you get all the enterprise-class expensive redundancies that really cut down on that unexpected down time.
This is a great place to store your documents, music, videos, and other files so that they can be accessed virtually by any computer with an internet connection. These are generally inexpensive (and sometimes free) ways to store your data. In many cases you can even share some of that data with colleagues. This is an easy method of sharing a sales presentation or some vacation pictures.
Cloud Servers (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS)
Now, cloud based servers are my passion. This is where the power of the cloud really benefits businesses small and large. With cloud based servers, customers can get enterprise-class servers without the high price tag. With a normal in-house server, you purchase your hardware, backup equipment, and software licensing based on what you think you will need over the next 5 years. Because of this you generally buy more than you actually need, much of which goes to waste. In a cloud model, you pay only for what you need. Software licensing, and even hardware resources (such as processor power, memory, and disk space) can be allocated as you need it, and taken away when you don’t.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing
There are many benefits to cloud computing. Here is a short list:
Time to implement – Since there is no physical hardware to configure or, in many cases software licensing, a new server can be created in minutes.
Upgrading/Downgrading – Server resources such as memory, processors, and disk space can be added or removed as easily as flipping a light switch. This sure beats the old method of installing a second processor in a server, then reinstalling the operating system!!
Server snapshots – Depending on the infrastructure, it is often possible to take quick snapshots of your server. This way you can easily roll back to a certain point in time, without having to spend hours or days with tape backups. This is especially helpful if you are upgrading some volatile software! (note: snapshots are in no way a backup solution!!)
Cost – As I mentioned earlier, with cloud computing you pay only for what you need. These services are typically highly extensible and cost effective. There are no high upfront costs of paying for software licensing and expensive hardware. Plus there is no need to buy a new tape drive and sets of tapes with a cloud server. At $40-60 per tape, these quickly add up!! If your cloud hosting provider offers managed services, this can save you even more since you no longer need to have someone on staff to manage and maintain the server. See? You just saved yourself $75,000 a year, plus you lowered your CAP-EX!!
Redundancies – Cloud technologies have varying levels of redundancy. I suggest always asking which are available to you. Sometimes these redundancies are available a la carte, so you can choose which you need. I usually suggest, as a minimum, redundancies for disk, power, air conditioning, and internet providers.
Security – It seems like every few years new regulations popup requiring tighter and tighter security with our data. In my experience most small businesses don’t really have the ability to lock down their servers, restrict access, have redundant air conditioning systems, biometric security, etc… Cloud environments are often located in very large datacenter facilities. These facilities can even have such redundancies as multiple power grids! Try getting two separate electricity providers to provide power to your office!
Cloud hosting vs. managed cloud hosting
Cloud hosting providers generally do only provide the cloud services. They offer limited assistance outside of the initial steps of creating the environment. This model assumes that you are able to manage and maintain this server environment. If that isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t worry because there are also many organizations that offer managed cloud hosting services. Managed cloud hosting is a much better fit for the rest of us since it can offer experts in the field to help you do just about whatever you want with your cloud environment. I am fortunate enough to work for a company which offers managed cloud server hosting. It is very fulfilling to help small and medium businesses setup one or more servers to do whatever they need, without them having any technical experience what so ever. As an example, my company often builds cloud based terminal servers and/or SharePoint servers for our customers. This allows them to share applications and data while keeping a low overhead. These servers are especially useful when not all employees are located in the same building. Users can be scattered around the globe and still operate as if they were just down the hall. By the way, many customers never have to worry about doing backups, because it is all handled by our managed services.
So, why go to the cloud?
Moving to the cloud can save money, be more efficient as an organization, deploy more quickly. You can run your Line of Business (LOB) applications on enterprise class servers, in an enterprise class datacenter, for a fraction of the cost. While this often times isn’t as inexpensive as a cheap small business server, you get a lot more bang for your buck with the cloud.