What is this cloud you talk of?

Photo Credit: davidvarog via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: davidvarog via Compfight cc

Everywhere you turn you hear people talking about the cloud. They talk of the many benefits and how it will change business for every company. Working in the technology sector it is an interesting time to see all the companies big and small try to figure out how to make the cloud work for their business.

What does cloud mean?

When companies talk about the cloud (or cloud computing) to you they mean having access to your system everywhere you go at all times. Your companies applications would live in the cloud and be hosted by a third party provider. For instance, many companies use Google’s Gmail to manage their email service. This a usage of the cloud that frees up business resources to focus on other priorities.

How does it work?

It is based on the sharing of resources from your providers to enable economies of scale. For instance, a small bank might want to enable their customers to use their online bill payment and checking access. This small bank can’t afford to pay for an entire Information Technology staff to secure and maintain this application. So it makes sense to them to outsource it. Hosting in the cloud can provide many site redundancy. So if the power goes out in the midwest the users can access the system from different data centers.

Who are the major players?

The major cloud providers are Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Computing, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace.com. Amazon Web Services or AWS for short is the big leader in this new area. There are many companies that you may be familiar with that use AWS for their storage. For instance, Netflix and Spotify both use AWS for their applications. Google Cloud Computing is used for Khan Academy and Rovio. Microsoft Azure and Rackspace are trying to gain more market share.

What are the benefits of using the cloud?

The benefits of the cloud are numerous. For instance, many companies can reduce or eliminate their needs for data centers and costly servers and licenses. The cost savings can be large as companies like Amazon have numerous data centers throughout the world. The data storage can surpass limits you might have on your own data center plus it is decentralized. You can optimize delivery as your content can be located in numerous data centers and it can scale to meet your demands.

What are some of the drawbacks?

Some of the downsides to using the cloud are downtime. If your internet connection goes down your business can be down until it is restored. Data security can be a threat for data kept in the cloud. Depending on what type of data you are storing you will need to understand what precautions are put in place by your cloud vendor.

When you compare the costs of using a cloud provider make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some comparisons of the total cost of ownership seem the cost benefits diminish over time. Make sure the format of your cloud provider doesn’t lock you into a proprietary format or onerous contracts. Support for your cloud computing platform can sometimes be hard to come by. So make sure you do your research before you commit.

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