Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.
“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla. “It’s cloudy out there in the cloud. An easier way to explain it is by using the utility computing concept. This resonates the most with people because they can compare to how they use gas or electricity as a utility, so now can you use computing power as a utility.”
Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.
How does cloud computing work?
You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is vast. Data centers all over the world house servers, and each server or set of servers is designated for a certain type of application or resource. Servers, routers, switches and security devices combine with network connectivity and an operating system to form the cloud. You could compare it to an electrical grid, in which power comes from substations and power generation points before electricity goes over wires to provide power to households or businesses.
Some examples of cloud computing include Apple products that back up data to their iCloud, and Microsoft products with which data is backed up on SkyDrive, Google Drive, Salesforce.com or Dropbox. A business may approach a data center for complete automation of its infrastructure and take care of the software itself.
The data center is then responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware pieces are working in harmony with each other and have different versing capabilities within that physical layer.
What are the advantages of cloud computing?
A major advantage of cloud computing is time. As a startup business you can get up and running online reasonably quickly and with minimal investment because you are not buying servers, routing or switching equipment. Instead, you are plugging into a utility that doesn’t require any setup, that is already functioning, and you simply pay for it on a monthly basis.
Cloud computing also offers more versatility and capacity. For example, say your company has a new e-commerce site and a product becomes an overnight sensation. If your website is on a cloud computing platform, you can scale up and sustain a high volume of traffic without having a performance degradation for users of your site.
Cloud computing can also improve your ability to be agile and nimble because the monthly fee for service includes taking care of your hardware and resources. As a user of the cloud, you don’t need an army of IT personnel or consultants, freeing you up both financially and staffing-wise to concentrate on your target business.
Additionally, a minimal amount of software is installed on the personal computer or path, so instead of downloading the entire Microsoft Office suite, for example, you can sign up for Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to subscribe to the cloud-based service on a month-to-month basis to access all Microsoft Office products.
What is the difference between public and private cloud services?
On a public cloud, you don’t know where your data is stored or who has access to it, but you are able to increase your capacity more quickly. An example is Amazon Web Services, which hosts websites on hundreds of thousands of servers which allows users to increase capacity as needed.
A private cloud can be established for businesses that know their growth plans and that want extra security. The business can then control who has access to that data and knows that it is stored in a secure location.
How are security and privacy handled with cloud computing?
Security and privacy are the main reasons businesses are hesitant to go over to the cloud. However, with a private cloud, you manage your environment so closely that the security is as good as with conventional computing. Because of privacy issues, HIPAA-compliant and PCI-compliant credit card companies will always have to use private cloud services.
For extra security, you can do an automation deployment with a private cloud, but that will result in higher costs because you have dedicated resources just for your company. For data that isn’t as sensitive, a public cloud offers more versatility and nimbleness.
What should businesses think about when considering cloud computing?
Ask yourself exactly what it is you want out of the cloud. What are your needs and what do you want to accomplish? With so many different products, you have to ascertain what you will use it for. If you require word processing or Excel, you could use Google Drive, Microsoft Office 365 or Google App. For massive data storage needs, there’s Box.com or Amazon Web Services.
For private cloud service, you need to find a data center company to meet those requirements. Examine what the various companies are providing as their feature set for cloud computing, then choose which company best suits your business needs.
If your focus and expertise is not in IT, the more you can outsource to a cloud computing environment, the lower your costs will be for computing needs and data storage. Then your company can focus on its strengths, knowing that the rest is being taken care of up in the cloud.
Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cloud computing is revolutionizing information technology, and if it hasn’t yet impacted your business, it will soon, says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.
“Cloud computing is a new way of delivering resources, not a new technology,” says Maloney. “And the timing for cloud computing to reach critical mass couldn’t come at a better point.
In today’s belt-tightening climate, this new economic model for computing is enabling companies to accomplish more with less, and the move to cloud-based computing marks a historic point in the evolution of business.”
Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to harness the power of the cloud for growth, profit and success.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. The cloud allows users to connect from anywhere at any time, making connections via a shared platform.
Until the advent of the cloud, computing tasks were not possible without the application of software on a computer. You bought a license, installed the application and then used the program. With the development of local area networks, or LANs, the client-server model of computing was born, offering an opportunity to begin sharing resources.
Today, cloud computing has leapfrogged the client server model by providing applications from a server that is accessed from a web browser.
Is use of the cloud catching on with U.S. companies?
In a June 2011 survey of U.S. companies, only about 28 percent were using cloud computing in a meaningful way. However, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for cloud capabilities.
More than 90 percent of IT executives believe that the cloud will provide some kind of business advantage to their businesses, 63 percent say they’ll realize cost savings and 29 percent say they’ll achieve increased flexibility.
How can the cloud environment impact businesses?
When it’s deployed properly, it should give a business extra value over a long period of time. It should be able to address the quick-changing needs of businesses better than traditional IT services do, and the cloud should enable business innovation. When you go to the cloud you reap the benefits of speed, agility, price, innovation, simplicity, a managed system and availability. Most of all, it’s about scalability. Whether you’re talking SaaS, DaaS, IaaS or any of the services, you can quickly scale up your activities to meet demand, add new users and cut costs.
What are the shortcomings of the cloud?
The biggest concern may be security, which includes privacy, compliance, and legal and contractual issues. To be considered protected in the cloud, your data must be properly segregated from that of another company. Data protection, then, is a requirement for any enterprise that seeks to protect the core of its business. Businesses must also address other key areas, including physical security where data are stored, and customers must be sure that they will have regular and predictable access to their data and applications.
Cloud computing can offer the enterprise or mid-sized businesses a significant business advantage, but it’s up to you to understand the opportunities and risks involved. When evaluating any cloud model, make a detailed checklist to ensure you answer all the key questions fundamental to a successful deployment and utilization. Smart customers ask tough questions before committing to any cloud vendor.
What other factors should companies consider when looking at cloud use?
For any company looking to move to the cloud, it’s important to note that you are transferring new operating risk and requirements on to your network. Upon moving to the cloud, 100 percent of your application has to travel the WAN every time users want to access it. So it’s critically important to invest in your network infrastructure to ensure you have the uptime and reliability you need.
As you conduct your evaluation of network providers you should look at four key criteria:
- Absolute speed. What is the absolute speed of the underlying transport that is available to you as more traffic from all users begins traversing the network? Traffic doesn’t necessarily grow linearly, but it will grow with your users and the number of applications you add over time. Your ability to turn up bandwidth quickly is critical.
- Network reliability. Now that you have 100 percent of your traffic traversing the network every time a customer or employee accesses the application, the reliability of your network becomes that much more important.
- Scalability. This is critical to scale up to add applications, users and sites. The network must provide immediate opportunity for growth. In this new cloud-based approach, you can easily manage capacity by adding bandwidth, and that changes the conversation with your network service provider.
- Application-specific bandwidth control. Not all applications are created equal. You must be able to deploy application-specific bandwidth controls so that you can decide where to prioritize your traffic to address load conditions, or just to ensure that those mission-critical real-time applications get the bandwidth they need.
These criteria serve as a starting point, but you should pull back the covers on any communications company to examine the network infrastructure and the core attributes in the heart of the operation.
Mike Maloney is vice president of business services at Comcast. Reach him at Michael_Maloney@cable.comcast.com.
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