Cloud Computing - Friend or Foe?

Carl Wright of Purple Tuesday Limited

The cloud is nothing new, but in recent years its importance to business has become much more evident and is being embraced by both small and large enterprises.

The decision to adopt cloud computing facilities by businesses can throw up a number of questions that wouldn’t necessarily be faced if you were looking at more traditional software solutions.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is an all-encompassing term and refers to a number of differing computing processes rolled into a centrally accessed source. In essence the cloud is a central computing resource handling such things as authentication, processing, data storage and networking.

Although the cloud may have the appearance of being a single central system, it is actually a distributed set of servers often operating in differing geographic locations.

The cloud is accessed over the Internet by end users through computers, mobile phones, tablets etc. The end user is therefore acting as a “dumb-terminal” which consumes resources from the cloud. You have probably already accessed cloud applications if you have used services such as Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo Mail.

Application providers write software that can be run using cloud resources and accessed by their clients, this is known as Software as a Service (SaaS), examples include Salesforce.com, Office365 and Basecamp. Additionally, application vendors may write software that is delivered to their users though an Application Programming Interface (API) such as Google Maps.

A business may subscribe to these applications or perhaps utilise the cloud itself to write their own bespoke software, either way, end users will usually pay only for the services they use.

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

  • Add capacity, without additional infrastructure, licensing or training
    Since the cloud is made up of any number of separate servers it’s easy to expand, or reduce the servers available to run a particular task, usually with no noticeable impact on the running systems. This process can often be automated to allow for peaks in usage.
  • Access applications from anywhere
    Users can access applications from desktop computers, servers, mobile phones, tablets or even through a TV set.
  • Inexpensive user hardware
    The heavy processing is achieved using cloud resources so business costs are reduced since only basic end user hardware is required.
  • Licensing and management simplified
    There is no need to pay for expensive operating systems, licenses for software or a big IT team, the costs of these are rolled into the overall cost of the service.
  • Reliability
    Availability is improved since cloud hardware is self-correcting, so if a piece of hardware in the cloud fails there will normally be another replacement piece that will automatically take over that task.
  • Multi-tenanted applications allow for sharing of resources and costs
    It’s not necessary for a business to pay for software development and hardware, they are one of many businesses utilising the same application and hardware for the same task.
  • Green
    There is often an environmental benefit to using cloud systems. Only the resources required for the task are consuming power, whereas traditionally if a server was running an application, such as your company email, it may be underutilised if your requirements are low.

Why should I avoid cloud computing?

  • Privacy and Security
    The overriding concern of many businesses is the security of the cloud. If the cloud goes offline, and there have been instances of providers being offline for many hours recently, then this can have a more significant effect on operations than a single server going down. Businesses should also ask themselves who owns their data stored in the cloud, could the providers prevent access to that data?
  • Customisation
    The benefit of a shared application can be attractive, but if you need to make modifications to the application to accommodate your particular business requirement this can prove costly, if at all possible.
  • Connectivity
    If you lose connectivity to the Internet you won’t be able to access your cloud systems. This can be a particular problem if you are in rural areas or using mobile devices.

What does the future hold?

Industry experts see the future of business computing leveraging the power of cloud computing not only for the cost benefits but also for improving collaboration, outsourced IT expertise and centralising data.

The Cabinet Office has recently developed their own G-Cloud procurement strategy whereby application providers write cloud based systems for consumption by government departments. The hope is that these departments will move away from buying many similar silo based systems from multiple providers and instead source smaller, more flexible software from specialist providers.

With IT giants such as Microsoft, IBM, HP and Amazon firmly adopting the cloud it’s clear that this technology is not simply a passing fad but will be the way businesses of tomorrow, as well as today, will manage their IT, infrastructures and staff.

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