If you ask 10 businesses in Trinidad and Tobago what Cloud Computing is about, most of the responses would be about data storage.
After all, this is the aspect marketed the most locally and indeed is most familiar to the average computer user. That’s not quite it though.
Thinking of Cloud Computing solely in terms of data storage, overlooks the real benefits that are at the core of the concept.
Cloud Computing is a model for designing your IT infrastructure.
It’s not just about files and folders, but rather how your infrastructure is designed and utlimately maintained.
Depending on the scenario involved, Cloud Computing may look different in practice, however the main concepts and factors remain:
The ease at which new services/applications can be introduced without disrupting existing ones.
The ability for users to access services from different machines and locations.
Synchronization of data between services.
Ease of maintenance.
Scalability of resources (can we have more or less of this easily?).
and of course, adjustable costs.
If you look back at how business IT has been typically deployed from the mid 90’s to early 2000’s, the scenario looked something like this:
Company spends a lot on expensive computer hardware.
Company spends twice that on inflexible, confusing ‘enterprise’ software license terms.
After some time, company realizes bugs in the software or desired features that are missing. They may also only utilize less than half the features they are paying for.
Company seeks out an upgrade or alternative solution(s) and thus repeating the cycle.
Not very agile. The real risk here is the money and effort spent on preparing for something that may ultimately not work out very well in the medium to long term.
Here, Cloud Computing brings benefits. Vendors typically have the ability to provide their services to customers with little to no upfront costs beyond having basic Internet access.
Less hardware requirements necessary for the client also makes evaluating software before purchase easier which is always a good thing.
Most Cloud Services Providers offer their services using a ‘pay as you go’ pricing model.
Customer resource usage (be it hardware or software) is measured (metered) and billed at a predetermined rate.
Example: 32GB storage, 1 cpu, 2GiB memory @ $0.175 per hour.
The actual hardware is located in the vendor’s data center and access is provided through a Web site or some application the vendor provides.
Various applications can be deployed and destroyed on demand without worrying about the impact to existing ones.
This is often called ‘Public Cloud’. Public because the vendor is making its own computing resources available to the general public for a fee.
Advantageous as it is, some businesses avoid Cloud Computing completely when it is described this way.
Be it for operational efficiency, competitive, legislative or even security reasons, some businesses simply can not have their core IT infrastructure in another company’s data center.
There is also the issue of loss of some control; you can’t just walk into a data center you don’t own and let’s not overlook the potential of measured billing to add up unexpectedly if not monitored.
All understandable, but Cloud Computing is still just a model for an organisation’s IT infrastructure.
There is no requirement of using a third party Cloud Services provider.
Organisations, large and small can design and build their own Cloud infrastructure, hosted on their own premises.
This is called a private cloud.
Thanks largely to the power of virtualisation, a single computer can act as multiple computers and hence run more applications without conflict.
A single physical computer can give the impression of a moderate sized data center if set up right.
That’s good news, especially for smaller businesses, as it means you don’t have to spend a small fortune on hardware to acquire some of the computing power large corporations have enjoyed for years.
Many local businesses did not get the memo when it comes to IT, viewing it as a tool for data entry rather than an engine for automation, business intelligence and ultimately a way to save time.
This sadly, may be due in part to the amount of friction involved in setting up new IT solutions traditionally. Not to mention the heavy up front costs and restrictive licenses.
Cloud Computing, be it public, private or a mixture of both (Hybrid Cloud), helps break down some of these barriers directly and indirectly.
We look at IT infrastructure as a set of on-demand services that we can use to build whatever the job requires from us.
In the case of a private Cloud, up front costs still exist for the hardware you buy, but do not recur each time you need to deploy new software.
In an ideal world, you should only need to spend more on hardware when you need more raw computing power.
All this said, Cloud Computing is not without its disadvantages.
For one thing, it seems that the major vendors are adamant about locking customers into their own services and infrastructure, rather than focusing on common standards and implementations
A relic from the 90s where vendor lock-in seemed like the best way to do business.
A pain point now, but if the past has been any indicator of the future in technology, this will change eventually. In the mean time, a hybrid Cloud seems might be the best approach for most scenarios.