Head in the Cloud: I

Blog Author: Aaron Smith | December 3rd, 2011

In the last 12 – 18 months one technology has become an unparalleled IT buzz word; “Cloud”.  You’d be hard pressed to find a more hyped-about term.

But the what, how and why still remain a mystery for many small to medium business owners.  Over the next few editions, we thought we’d take a little time to demystify some of the terminology and give some food for thought on the subject. This month, let’s get down to the basics.

What is Cloud? For most companies, they have for years had what is known as “on-premise” solutions for their IT needs; meaning if you go to a particular cupboard, storage room or corner of the office you’d find a server and a bunch of other gear that is essentially the engine of the IT Infrastructure.

The basic philosophy of Cloud computing is that you are moving parts of your IT Infrastructure from the cupboard in your office to “the Cloud”; instead of having a server on premise that delivers all the software applications, shared resources and information, these are delivered from big Data Centres as a service over the Internet, much like a utility such as electricity is delivered over the grid.  You don’t need to know where the services come from, just that they work.

Benefits:

  • Scalable – because most Cloud services are delivered on a per user, per month basis, additional services can be turned on or turned off according to the needs of the business.  Behind the scenes, Data Centre resources can be quickly provisioned to meet the demands being placed on a particular service.  It is often difficult to achieve the same flexibility with the hardware that’s sitting in your office.
  • Low Maintenance – Cloud services reside on server infrastructure that is managed by someone else.  Things like maintenance, patching and version upgrades are someone else’s issue.
  • Performance – the inherent scalability of Cloud computing allows those managing the resources to increase the capacity in line with the load being placed on them.  What this means for the user is that their productivity is not necessarily limited by infrastructure slowing performance, which is often the case with aging on-premise solutions.

Draw backs:

  • Control of the environment – having someone else maintain the infrastructure you are relying on is a two edged sword.  You have little control over when upgrades are going to happen and this could potentially cause conflicts with other applications you’re using.  There are also issues with unplanned outages that you have absolutely no control over.
  • Security – many companies may have concerns about storing sensitive data in an environment that they don’t know or trust, particularly if they are unsure about where the data will be located.
  • Connectivity – having IT services delivered via the Internet means that there is going to be a substantial increase in the traffic you will have on your Internet link.  In many cases, companies considering Cloud computing also need to scale up their link speed, bandwidth and usage limits and in Australia, this comes at a cost.

Cloud computing is no longer some sort of geeky phenomenon.  In the right circumstances, it is a real and tangible tool for both business and consumer users.  Two main areas that we are seeing growth particularly for SMB are online file storage/backup and hosted software services.

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