Everyone’s in the cloud, aren’t they?
[Check out our initial article on Cloud Computing.]
Remind me. What is cloud computing?
Google provides a very nice definition: the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.
Briefly, it is the difference between data “out there,” rather than data “in here.” Which is what PCMag.com means when it says, “Cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive.”
Or, if you’d prefer something more technical, (techtarget.com) “the delivery of hosted services over the internet.” Which goes beyond mere data to the means of using the data.
Why is it desirable?
One of the loudly hyped benefits of cloud computing is the consumption of the computing infrastructure as a service, rather than purchasing and maintaining that infrastructure in house. We do not purchase a megawatt electrical generator to install in the back yard in order to keep the lights on and the appliances running. We purchase electricity as a utility – a service we utilize.
But more than the mere outlay of money, there is also the control and speed of provisioning. Need another server? Not an issue. The cloud can provide it more quickly than you can budget for it.
There is also the issue of scaling up and down. Business needs change: a reduction in staff doesn’t mean a server in storage. The cloud helps you to change as the need arises. And doesn’t leave the remnants of your massive investment in the storage room. The cloud allows you to pay only for the resources and workloads used. Why pay for what you aren’t able to use?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides yet another benefit of cloud computing. With cloud, you can “Go global in minutes.” If you have need of a global market, you can provide your services “to multiple regions around the world with just a few clicks.”
Microsoft Azure has a super list of “things you can do with the cloud:”
- Create new apps and services
- Store, back up and recover data
- Host websites and blogs
- Stream audio and video
- Deliver software on demand
- Analyze data for patterns and make predictions
Basic categories, please!
It might be helpful to break down the Computing Cloud into three categories of service: infrastructure, platform and software.
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) supplies a service which allows the user to migrate the workload to that virtual machine with data on a virtual server. An allocated storage capacity can be accessed anywhere and configured to changing need.
- Platform as a service (PaaS) provides development tools which the user can access, using application program interfaces (APIs). General software development providing a wide variety of software enhancements is the goal.
- Software as a service (SaaS) distributes software applications as a web service. Microsoft Office 365 is SaaS for productivity software (Word, Excel) and email services. The big advantage of SaaS is accessibility from any location that has internet access.
Can we simplify this?
A good way to simplify is to make a short list of the cloud you probably are already using:
- Microsoft Office 365 is an internet version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook.
- Google Drive is cloud storage that also allows use of Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides (echoes of MS Office).
- Apple has its iCloud, a service primarily for online storage, backup and synchronization of mail, contacts and calendar.
- Amazon Drive provides the same type of services for Amazon products, music MP3s and images as well as your Kindle purchases.
- Dropbox (and others like it) is a bit different. While providing cloud storage, Dropbox also synchronizes the data on your local storage. Some would say, “Not pure cloud!” But after all, you can access the cloud data from any computer. So others say, “Cloud!” And still others, the conciliatory types, say, “Hybrid…” Whatever!
- Don’t forget Facebook and Instagram. Services where you store your pictures and comments regarding your world. These are cloud services.
What concerns me?
The primary concern for SMBs is security. Because a private cloud is usually affordable only by the Enterprise sized business, SMBs will be limited to the public cloud – shared with all other SMBs or individual users.
You might picture the public cloud as a large apartment complex where you never see your neighbors. Those exist! The multi-tenant environment is the common means of providing cloud resources for economic reasons. Such an environment demands isolation between each computing resource offered.
The concern for cloud security is heightened if the business is bound by complex regulatory obligations and governance standards. Fears of cloud down-time, data loss or theft are not unreasonable. In response, cloud providers have worked to demonstrate proven high reliability with multiple fail-safe factors. The addition of data encryption and management of access has also contributed to an improved perception of security.
Eric Griffith, in his PCMag article on What’s Cloud Computing, raises an interesting concern: Who controls the data? Those who control the data access, also control the cost of accessing the data.
In 2012, Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, said, “I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.” Are we at the brink? Through the ensuing five years there have been outages for Dropbox, Gmail, Basecamp, Adobe, Evernote, iCloud, Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, AOL, Level 3 and Google. Wozniak, however, was more concerned about the intellectual property issues. Who owns the data you store online?
Use with caution!
That’s the warning label emblazoned across Cloud Computing. For most, it is a decided advantage. We can as safely assume that there will be improvements to protect as we can decry the problems that may come.
So, join the cloud! But use with caution.