Cloud Computing – So we are not stuck in a cloud …
The business community and, above all, IT experts are astounded by the concept of “cloud computing”. The promise of almost unlimited IT resources available to the user when and where required, and all at very accessible prices, have made many, even the most skeptical and conservative in the industry, think. How wonderful it would be to totally dispense with the need to operate computer centers and decide which software packages to use! Not to mention having to deal with hardware suppliers and even more so with cable and construction contractors.
Just by having good access to the communications network (the cloud), it is possible to access computer resources provided by a third party at a remote location. This “cloud computing” promises to solve all our problems and above all to reduce costs …
The fact is, when two experts talk about “cloud computing”, it is quite possible they do not understand each other because today the term covers quite disparate concepts. On one hand, we can be operating on the cloud when we purchase time on a third party technology platform (hardware) that provides us with this service via the Internet. A good example of this is Amazon which offers a service with these characteristics from its computer mega center. Also fitting this definition would be if we decided to purchase a remote software development environment on which to encode our own applications. And the definition could even reach far enough to include software licensing, in instances when we are offered “software as a service”, as is the case of Salesforce.com and other CRM applications suppliers.
In simple terms, “cloud computing” gives the end user the option to avoid acquiring the computer
equipment needed to provide information services. It provides the opportunity to dynamically expand or reduce the computing capacity according to the user’s needs, and all this ultimately at a variable cost, generally without the need for an initial investment.
Now, how different is this from the concept of “utility computing” which created so much hype a few years ago? In fact, there is not much of a difference. The concept is the same. What changed is that the virtualization tools, environment administration and the integration of web services have made the sharing of IT resources more feasible than in the past. This is the essence of the change.
The ability to share resources also makes it possible to distribute the cost among more participants, significantly reducing the total price of the service. On the other hand, some of these large data processing complexes have access to very attractive energy costs making it all even more favorable. In fact, if we accept the total commoditization of the cost of communications and the flexibility of virtualizing IT resources, the remaining differential cost factor is the electricity. This has prompted large “cloud computing” service providers to set up in geographic zones where incentives are offered in terms of energy costs.
Having said this, it is also important to stress that the cloud is not for everyone. There are a number of aspects to consider before embracing this new concept. First, it is crucial to define the feasibility of virtualizing the hardware and software platforms currently in use. If this cannot be done, the added value is substantially reduced. Alongside, the residual value of the existing investment should also be considered. It is of little use to purchase a low]cost service if one can’t get away from the cost incurred by purchasing the actual installation. Finally, there are safety concerns that must be addressed. Data protection can become a major safety concern in this environment.
Beyond these concerns, it is undeniable that the cloud is one of the most significant developments of the past few years and that it will beyond a doubt alter the way in which information technology is articulated in many environments. It is the responsibility of systems managers to ask what the differential value of this functionality is and, above all, how to ensure its implementation produces expected results, without compromising the integration of the IT operations.