The Cloud – One of the hottest buzzwords and most abused in describing products or services recently. In this article, I would like to mix facts with personal experiences I made, to assist everyone, who would like to find out what the cloud is and does and the things that it does not do (hence the title). Cloud has been buzzing around for a while now but when I witnessed both my parents talking about “the cloud” and how they use it in private I understood that this technology has arrived in mainstream and it is here for good.
So what is the cloud in a few words? The cloud or cloud computing is a technology design to enable users working with solutions independent from device, location, and network. Of course there are specializations with a larger or smaller focus on one or two subjects, but in general, this is it.
Origin of the Term
There are many theories on the origin of the term, yet there is no proven story. Feel free to check some good options on the Wikipedia article for cloud computing. My theory is that it developed from the use of cloud cliparts and stencils in technical drawings or presentations, created to visualize a network setup. I am sure that even before the term became a buzzword, most of you have seen presentations with little black boxes, switches, and routers in and around a large cloud to set a virtual border between realms.
Is the Cloud something new?
I am afraid it is not. The ideas and designs for such concepts have already been around since the 1950s but like with many breakthroughs in the user world, it required certain cultural and technological thresholds to be reached before the adoption could take place on widescale.
What is the Cloud?
Agility – The cloud is agile and therefore allows users to upscale or downscale their service based on business demand. Further, the actual hardware, used to host a virtual machine, can be repurposed if necessary. This is however not a cloudonly benefit, please read further down on infrastructure virtualization.
Availability – Services have the technological possibility of being available independent of devices, network, and location. This is, of course, relative to the design of each service along with its purpose but technically this is no limitation. For instance, you can use cloud video conferencing services to join any enterprisegrade video conference call from your smartphone, notebook, office workstation, tablet or even from a private computer at your home or maybe somewhere else. Of course, your conference partner needs to have their own environment set up to accept connections from outside in general. Cloud technology is not a wallbreaker and cannot bypass the security of an organization if they don’t allow such connections by policy.
Business Continuity – Cloud services are set up with redundancy and failover automation in place. So that even if single devices would fail, users would not notice and can proceed using the service. Such reliability would traditionally cost a lot of money when investing in owned or dedicated infrastructure blackboxes.
What is the Cloud NOT?
Cloud = Virtualization – Virtualization of infrastructure is an excellent way of deploying new solutions and upgrading your environment. But if you do this within your WAN, this does not automatically mean you are using the “cloud.” You are just virtualizing your infrastructure. Fair and square.
“No more hardware” – Well that’s a lie. Using software solutions or virtual infrastructure, there will still always be servers and databases that require a physical body. Only the deployment and usage is changed, but there will always be hardware. You might not own the hardware, and you will most likely never see or touch it, but it’s there, somewhere in a physical data center.
Grid computing – No, grid computing is not the same as cloud computing in my opinion. Even though, it might be its exact opposite. Where grid computing allows many computing units to work on a common target (e.g., movie rendering in render farms or Bitcoin mining), cloud computing allows a single user to utilize just any infrastructure in the pool offered by the cloud service provider to achieve their objective. “Private Cloud” needs to be onpremises – No that’s not correct even though it seems to be a common assumption. A cloud service can be deployed dedicated for your organization without anyone else having access to it, but the location of the physical hardware is irrelevant in order to provide that. In most cases, the service provider will utilize hardware that is physically near to the user base in order to avoid performance issues that could occur on long “open internet” routes.
Challenges of Cloud Technology
Security – Any cloud service can be set up securely if the solution and the environment of the clients allow it.
Privacy – Yes, privacy is a hot topic nowadays. But actually, it always was even in preinternet age. Privacy is nothing impossible even in the cloud, even on the internet if you choose the right service provider. And if you are looking for good providers but affordability is a concern, make sure that your selected partner has a few good reference clients to showcase to you.
Compliance – When you are in phase 2 of the provider selection, bring in the techies of your organization to make sure all offered functions and features are compliant to any active IT security policies that you need to consider.
Vendor Strategy – Cloud providers equal single vendor lock-in? Yes, it can be the case but if you want to avoid that, talk about this particular subject with your provider candidates. A few providers out there have established alliances and offer support to prevent any lock-ins.
Online works, offline it doesn’t – Depending on what your solution looks like make sure that your workforce can use the solution when they are online and when they are offline. For instance, when changing a file being on a flight, the data should update and synchronize itself in the cloud again when they are online. However, there are some services which this does not apply to such as realtime communication (e.g., WebRTC, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging).
Examples of Public Cloud Solutions
- Microsoft Office 365 – Cloud Office Environment
- Dropbox – Personal or professional cloud data storage
- Google Drive (a.k.a. Google Docs) – Cloud office applications and data storage
- Google Play Music – Shop and cloud storage and management for digital music
- Springpad – Cloud notebook and infosnippet keeper