Why is cloud computing the newest buzz term? What value does it bring to organizations? “It’s become the phrase du jour. The problem is that (as with Web 2.0) everyone seems to have a different definition. The “cloud” is obviously a metaphor for the internet but when you add in the term “computing” the whole phrase gets muddy. However, when you think of the needs of an organizations IT structure it starts to become clearer.
The concept of cloud computing is a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities. Cloud computing is location-independent computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for IT services based on the Internet, and it typically involves over-the-Internet provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources. It is a by product and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet. This frequently takes the form of web-based tools or applications that users can access and use through a web browser as if it were a program installed locally on their own computer. Most cloud computing infrastructures consist of services delivered through common centers and built on servers. Clouds often appear as single points of access for consumers’ computing needs. Commercial offerings are generally expected to meet quality of service (QoS) requirements of customers, and typically include service level agreements (SLAs).
There’s a good chance you’ve already used some form of cloud computing. If you have an e-mail account with a Web-based e-mail service like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail, then you’ve had some experience with cloud computing. Instead of running an e-mail program on your computer, you log in to a Web e-mail account remotely. The software and storage for your account doesn’t exist on your computer — it’s on the service’s computer cloud. The applications of cloud computing are practically limitless. With the right middle-ware, a cloud computing system could execute all the programs a normal computer could run. Potentially, everything from generic word processing software to customized computer programs designed for a specific company could work on a cloud computing system. Why would anyone want to rely on another computer system to run programs and store data? Here are just a few reasons:
- Clients would be able to access their applications and data from anywhere at any time. They could access the cloud computing system using any computer linked to the Internet. Data wouldn’t be confined to a hard drive on one user’s computer or even a corporation’s internal network.
- It could bring hardware costs down. Cloud computing systems would reduce the need for advanced hardware on the client side. You wouldn’t need to buy the fastest computer with the most memory, because the cloud system would take care of those needs for you. Instead, you could buy an inexpensive computer terminal. The terminal could include a monitor, input devices like a keyboard and mouse and just enough processing power to run the middleware necessary to connect to the cloud system. You wouldn’t need a large hard drive because you’d store all your information on a remote computer.
- Corporations that rely on computers have to make sure they have the right software in place to achieve goals. Cloud computing systems give these organizations company-wide access to computer applications. The companies don’t have to buy a set of software or software licenses for every employee. Instead, the company could pay a metered fee to a cloud computing company.
- Servers and digital storage devices take up space. Some companies rent physical space to store servers and databases because they don’t have it available on site. Cloud computing gives these companies the option of storing data on someone else’s hardware, removing the need for physical space on the front end.
- Corporations might save money on IT support. Streamlined hardware would, in theory, have fewer problems than a network of heterogeneous machines and operating systems.
- If the cloud computing system’s back end is a grid computing system, then the client could take advantage of the entire network’s processing power. Often, scientists and researchers work with calculations so complex that it would take years for individual computers to complete them. On a grid computing system, the client could send the calculation to the cloud for processing. The cloud system would tap into the processing power of all available computers on the back end, significantly speeding up the calculation.