Is Cloud Computing Right For You?

By now, you have surely heard about “cloud computing.”  You may have heard about its magical powers and how it will solve all the problems in the world.  What is it, really? What does it do?  Is it right for your business?  Can it really deliver the hype?

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing had been around since ancient times (in terms of computing).  Marketing folks have just found a new way of making it hip with this new phrase, then the term caught on, as everybody wants in on the action.  IBM defines cloud computing as “a computing model providing web-based software, middleware and computing resources on demand.”  In the past we used to call it “timesharing”, and IBM was a major player.  It started with large computer systems.  Many companies could not afford these systems in-house.  However, these mainframe and mini-computer systems were designed from the start to allow several terminals to be connected simultaneously, each one running different tasks.  The actual processing was taking place at the mainframe box typically housed in a data center, while the terminal could be located anywhere in the world.  Each terminal or task would share the computing resources of the host system.  Charges were typically made for the amount of time of cpu used, plus storage.

So that was in the mini and mainframe computer times, but what about now?  Well, the personal computer completely changed that computing model.  It all became personal.  Then we evolved into networks (LANs).  This allowed centralization of storage and sharing of resources, but all the processing was still local.  Next, the internet came along, and essentially expanded the access into a global network.  Network and systems engineers typically use a cloud in technical diagrams to show connections through the internet.  Email is said to have been the “killer application” of the internet.

What is cloud computing used for?

Email use exploded in the 1990’s.  If you’ve used eMail, then you’ve used cloud computing.  If you’ve accessed a website, you’ve used cloud computing.  In both cases, users go out into “the cloud” to send off and retrieve their email to or from an email server, or go a server whose job is to serve web pages.  The marketers, just had not gotten the bright idea to call it that until the last few years.  The number and type of computing resources that can be used over the internet continues to increase.  For example, salesforce.com provides a customer relationship service that is accessible through the internet.  Google and Microsoft provide storage and office productivity applications, in addition to email, that is accessed through the internet.  Apple offers the iCloud service for storage.  A number of companies offer data storage services for offsite backups.  Some specialized industry service providers offer shared servers that allow clients to access applications through remote desktops over the internet.

Benefits

  1. One of the easy benefits to see is that these services are typically very portable.  They can be accessed from any computer, anywhere that has a connection to the internet.
  2. Another benefit can be the lower cost of administration of these computer resources, since the task of provisioning, backups, upgrades, and some technical support is handled by the service provider.

Risks

  1. One of the risks of cloud computing comes from the fact that the services are accessed through the internet.  If the internet connection at your location goes down, everyone at that location is locked out.  This can sometimes be mitigated by implementing redundant connectivity to the internet.
  2. Another risk is that of the service provider going down.  Try doing an internet search, for example to see if Google Apps or Gmail have been down, or Microsoft’s Hotmail or Office 365, or Amazon, or RIM, or Quickbooks Online, or Apple’s iCloud.
  3. You may be putting all of your eggs in one basket.  If you are using a live cloud based storage or office productivity suite and either your internet connection or the service provider goes down, so do all of your systems that rely on that service.
  4. Privacy is a significant issue.  While these service providers claim that they use encryption, the fact remains that security breaches are a regular occurrence.  As a general recommendation, no business should put any customer information or any proprietary or confidential information into a cloud service.

Is it right for me?

In some cases, cloud computing services are useful.  Every business is different, and everyone’s tolerance to risk is different.  Also, certain applications lend themselves well to this model.  In all cases, you should do a comparison of features and capabilities of having your own local resources versus the cloud version.  Many applications simply cannot be implemented as a cloud service with the same capabilities as a local system.  Whether you are looking to offer services to your clients or are contemplating using a cloud based service, be sure to examine the benefits and risks, as well as a cost and capability comparison.  You really should also speak to someone with a business and technical background who can help guide you in your decision and implementation processes.  One of our consultants will be pleased to work with you on this or other IT services you may require.  If you’ve been using a cloud based service, please share your experience below, or drop us a line!

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