· What is Cloud Computing?
· What are Cloud Services?
Whether you realize it or not, you’re almost certainly already using cloud-based services in the form of Gmail, Google Docs, Office Web Apps, Facebook, Twitter, iCloud (coming shortly) and DropBox. These are applications that run on the ‘Internet’ or, we could say, on the ‘Cloud’.
They are all different applications with different purposes but they all have in common that they are not running on you PC, laptop or tablet. You access them on-line (although they may have off-line versions that synch-up as soon as you are back on-line, like Gmail and Google Docs) from any location and computer; you do not worry about updates or upgrades; you do not worry about viruses or security; you do not worry about disk-space. They are in the Cloud and somebody else is responsible for all those things.
Although this definition is not completely accurate, as a first approach we could say that cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).
Many authors have specifically outlined the parallel that can be drawn with the electricity grid, wherein end-users consume power without needing to understand the component devices or infrastructure required to provide the service. The evolution has taken place over 100 years where we have gone from each company / household having its own source of electricity, to local / regional companies providing it to a small area, to national / international companies providing it across a nation or an entire continent. This evolution is similar to the changes we are seeing in computing and applications but at a much faster pace.
Now, think about this same concept applied to a company, whether big or small. All the applications that the corporation uses – CRM, ERP, accounting, finance, logistics… - can move from local hard-drives, on-premise servers and data centers, where they reside today, to the cloud. The company doesn’t have to invest in buying, maintaining and improving its servers and database infrastructure, it uses a global infrastructure provided by a specialist and shared with many other companies in a secure manner.
Before we go any further, it is important that we understand the distinction between ‘Cloud Computing’ and ‘Cloud Services’. IDC describes them as:
Cloud Services – Consumer and Business products, services and solutions that are delivered and consumed in real-time over the internet.
Cloud Computing – Is the IT environment that enables the development, delivery and consumption of cloud services.
That is, the applications that you use that reside in the cloud are cloud services. The people that developed those applications did so using cloud computing tools.
So, what are the key attributes of a cloud service? IDC provides a handy checklist to determine whether or not something should be called a ‘cloud service’. Some of the key points are:
· Third-party provider – It is a commercial offering
· Location agnostic – The service could be running anywhere in the cloud
· Accessed via the Internet – Probably via a web browser but it could also be via a ‘gadget’ you have downloaded on your laptop / tablet. This is the case, for example, for Twitter.
· Minimal/no IT skills required to implement – You, or your company, use it as a utility but are not responsible for it. You have instant – or very quick – access to it from day one
· Pricing – Consumer apps are often free. Corporate offerings have clear, usage-based pricing
· Shared resources – A single service will be shared by many customers while allowing for different tailoring for each of them
You will also hear cloud services being called Software as a Service. We will focus on this concept in a future blog.
But then, what is cloud computing? It is the IT foundation for cloud services and consists of a growing list of technologies and IT offerings that enable cloud services. It includes:
Cloud Infrastructure Services – Also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). It delivers computer infrastructure – often platform virtualization – along with storage and networking capabilities.
Servers – It is the hardware (multi-core processors) and software (cloud-specific operating systems) products that are at the foundation of cloud services.
On top of these layers Software and Applications are built. The overall These layers are built on top of each other with the complete stack looking like the diagram above.
These are not easy concepts and, although they needed to be introduced here, we will go into more detail in a later blog.
Next week we will introduce the concepts of Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud.