Demystifying Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been all the rage, and still is the trendy talk in tech circles across the globe. It's called cloud computing because a company’s data and applications exist on a "cloud" of Web servers. Cloud computing delivers applications, web services, and IT infrastructure as a service, allowing companies to instantly scale their technology requirements to meet new demands. It’s a cost-effective approach to technology because companies can do away with usage predictions, infrastructure investments, or planning to meet growing demands.

Let's try to simplify this. Imagine that you're an executive at a large corporation. Your responsibilities include making sure that all of your employees have the right hardware and software they need to do their jobs. Buying hardware and software for everyone isn't enough, because for each new hire you have to buy more software or licenses. It's so stressful that you find it difficult to go to sleep on your huge pile of money every night.

Now imagine that instead of investing in hardware and/or software for each new employee, you'd only have to load one application. That application would allow employees to log into a Web-based service which hosts all the programs. Remote machines owned a service provider would run everything from email to word processing to complex data analysis programs. This is cloud computing.

Need to simplify it further? If you have an e-mail account with a Web-based e-mail service like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail, then you've had some experience with cloud computing. Instead of running an email program on your computer, you log in to a Web e-mail account remotely. The software and storage for your account doesn't exist on your computer. It's on the service's computer cloud.

Here's a rough breakdown of what cloud computing is all about:

  • SaaS. Delivers a single application through the browser to thousands of customers using a multitenant architecture. On the customer side, it means no upfront investment in servers or software licensing; on the provider side, with just one application to maintain, costs are low compared to conventional hosting.
  • Utility computing. Early enterprise adopters mainly use utility computing for supplemental, nonmission- critical needs. Other providers offer solutions that help IT create virtual datacenters from commodity servers.
  • Web services in the cloud. Web service providers offer APIs that enable developers to exploit functionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full-blown applications.
  • Platform as a service. Delivers development environments as a service. You build your own applications that run on the provider's infrastructure and are delivered to users via the Internet from the provider's servers.
  • MSP (managed service providers). This is exposed to IT rather than to end-users, such as a virus scanning service for e-mail or an application monitoring service.
  • Service commerce platforms. A hybrid of SaaS and MSP, this cloud computing service offers a service hub that users interact with. They're most common in trading environments, such as expense management or secretarial services from a common platform.

Cloud Computing Architecture

When talking about a cloud computing system, it's helpful to divide it into two sections: the front end and the back end, connected to each other through a network. The front end is the side the computer user, or client, sees. The back end is the "cloud" section of the system.

The front end includes the client's computer and the application required to access the cloud computing system. Not all cloud computing systems have the same user interface. On the back end of the system are the various computers, servers and data storage systems that create the "cloud" of computing services. In theory, a cloud computing system could include practically any computer program you can imagine, from data processing to video games. Usually, each application will have its own dedicated server.

A central server administers the system, monitoring traffic and client demands to ensure everything runs smoothly. It follows a set of protocols and uses a special kind of software called middleware that allows networked computers to communicate with each other

Why would a company want to rely on another computer system to run programs and store data? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Clients would be able to access their applications and data from anywhere at any time.
  • It could bring hardware and software costs down.
  • Quick access to latest software and applications at lower costs.
  • Servers and digital storage devices will no longer take up physical space.
  • Companies might save money on IT support.
  • If the cloud computing system's back end is a grid computing system, then the client could take advantage of the entire network's processing power.

Cloud computing allows your company’s IT team to increase capacity or add capabilities without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT's existing capabilities.



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