Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Sep 26 2011   8:17AM GMT

Cloud Computing: Unmasking the beast

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Cloud computing is a current topic and it sure will look bad on me if I stay away from this discussion. This subject is ever present in all seminars/ discussions/ debates and people swear by it. In a discussion on the television the other day, a panelist stated that this was the biggest thing ever to have happened to the IT industry and others nodded in acceptance. I do not know if they were really in agreement or wanted to look good to the audience, but the discussion went on espousing the cause.

Cloud computing is all the rage. The problem is that (as with Web 2.0) everyone seems to have a different definition. On the Internet, “the cloud” is a familiar cliché; but when combined with ’computing’, the meaning gets bigger and fuzzier. Some analysts and vendors define cloud computing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing — basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is ’in the cloud’, including conventional outsourcing.

Articles in IT magazines and business magazines, advertisements and direct mailers from vendors to CEOs and Business Heads created quite a few embarrassing moments for me. Touting cloud computing as the ultimate fix to IT problems, they led the unsuspecting business managers to believe that the solutions to their woes was near. However, subsequent discussions with a few vendors left the matter unresolved. The truth was that the vendors themselves were riding on a wave and hence did not have their feet to the ground. They had some ‘overall’ models but no clear directions on how to put forth a comprehensive solution to the customer.

What is cloud computing

Now let us understand what cloud computing means in simple terms. I intend to make it easy to understand and not get into an all-encompassing definition. Let us say, “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)”.

Cloud computing provides computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services. Parallels to this concept 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 concept of cloud computing fulfills a perpetual need of IT; a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without having to invest in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing speaks of a pay-per-use service in real time over the Internet.

How cloud computing works

Cloud computing providers deliver applications via the internet, which are accessed from a web browser, while the business software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. In some cases, legacy applications (running on a client-server model) are delivered via a screen-sharing technology, in other cases, business applications are coded using web-based technologies.

Most cloud computing infrastructures consist of services delivered through shared data-centers and appearing as a single point of access for consumers’ computing needs. Commercial offerings may consist of various models but should be built on the premise that the users pays for the services that he avails of, apart from the fixed one-time costs that may be charged in the beginning for set up. These contracts usually ask for commitment for a certain period but the user can insist on service-level agreements (SLAs), ensuring that the service providers delivers a minimum level of service.

This, in a nutshell, could be cloud computing. I will discuss more on it in my next update.

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