Cloud Computing (aka Internet based Services)

…and that Cloud looks like a highly redundant, geographically dispersed computer cluster…

Technology marches forward and the paradigm changes. The latest new paradigm – Cloud Computing! Cloud Computing is going to completely change the way we design our computing infrastructures, again.

Cloud Computing is the concept of using Internet services to support users. In general the term is applied more toward business users, but I would say that we all use Internet (or cloud) based services. One of the best and most successful cloud computing services is web-based email or webmail. Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail are all examples of webmail services – and these services are examples of Cloud Computing.

There are also some specific types of cloud computing models.  These are basic subsets of cloud services and are different in the sense that they are usually purchased and have SLA (Service Level Agreements) associated with them.  The models are Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platforms as a Service (PaaS).

SaaS

Why do it in the Cloud?

In general cloud based services are more robust than similar in-house solutions. Yes, cloud services fail, but probably less often than similar services a business could deploy. Gmail for example has very high availability numbers. In fact, Gmail claims 99.9% availability, which is about an hour of down time per year,  less than 5 minutes a month.

Cloud computing is also less expensive.  Using cloud based services can save a lot of money in terms of capital investments and labor. Consider the costs of running an internal email server – hardware, software, system administration, networking, spam management, and so on. The costs of cloud based solution, the cost of the service and maybe a system administrator to help the users.

Why not to do it in the Cloud…

There are some very serious risks associated with Cloud usage. First and foremost is security. Cloud computing require you to rely on the cloud provider to address security.  Add to this the fact that the service is Internet accessible and security becomes a challenge. Recently Twitter felt the effects of failed security in its usage of cloud service. Without the benefits of hiding behind a firewall, cloud based services are more susceptible to hacking simply due to accessibility. It is critical to educate your users of these new challenges.

Another potential issue is data portability. Can you get your data out of the cloud? Unluckily, the answer is usually no. The ability to extract your data for archiving or backups is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to use cloud services and when selecting a provider. A recent move by Google to address data portability is a move in the right direction and will hopefully encourage others to follow suit. But the standard answer for most cloud computing solutions is “all your data are belong to us.

Welcome to the Future…

And Cloud Computing is there. The use of cloud computing is almost completely ubiquitous. Most Internet user take advantage of cloud services daily.  In fact, I suspect that most web usage is primarily focused on the use of cloud service; email, work-related activities, blogs, etc. The Cloud is the Internet and Cloud Computing is its new purpose.

What is next? More Cloud Computing power! Google Chrome OS? Maybe…