What is this ‘Cloud’?
So what is this ‘Cloud’ thing we keep hearing about? Is there really some ephemeral cloud computer somewhere, hidden away in plain sight maybe, ultimately powerful, massive, omnipresent and maybe omniscient?
Perhaps not too surprisingly, most respondents to the question, “What is the Cloud?”, will start to talk about the weather and fluffy balls of water vapor up in the sky, meteorological terms like ‘occluded fronts’ and ‘super cells’. That is an apparent statistic resulting from a survey into what people thought of the Cloud. So it’s not just me then! Whew! Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t get it.
What is this ‘Cloud’?
In reality, if you think you have seen this movie before, you are more right than wrong. Can you remember back to the days of Mainframe computers? The Mainframe was really just a large computer that received requests from, and sent results to, a terminal with a screen, keyboard and mouse. The smallest Mainframes were the size of a Minivan and would have been hidden away somewhere in an office basement. The cloud is much the same except that the end user doesn’t have to shell out millions of dollars to be able to purchase, install and use this Mainframe.
There are a number of ‘Clouds’, and that number is growing. To the owner of a ‘Cloud’ there is nothing fluffy or cloudy about it. A ‘Cloud’ is still Processors, Memory, Storage and Networking. It is still hardware, still requiring space and power and cooling and maintenance.
To the end user however, the ‘Cloud’ might be a service they can lease, or an application they can subscribe to or processing power they can leverage at will. The ‘Cloud’ is rapid access to almost infinitely scalable computer resources on an as needed basis and at a reasonable price.
Who can use the ‘Cloud’ though?
“But surely,” you say, “this can only be of use to Big Biz! It’s big and it can grow bigger and It’s full of technical things.”
“Not so!” I would answer. “And stop calling me Shirley!”
An owner of any size of business, newly minted or otherwise, could subscribe to a very basic offering of web based Office applications, along with a hosted email server and collaboration applications, in as little as a few hours, and for just a few dollars, per day. By the end of the week, if they wanted to go a different way, they could shutter it. No harm, no foul. Walk away at the cost of a handful of dollars, having opened and closed a business, and all without leaving your living room.
Does the ‘Cloud’ work well for Big Biz?
So what happens if we don’t want to go small? Go Big or go Home?
The cloud can SCALE, and it can do that swiftly. A business could go from running it’s own Exchange mail server, Skype messaging server and Sharepoint server to using the cloud in a matter of weeks without interruption to the business processes. Once in the cloud, expansion is easy, as is contraction. A business can add divisions, close divisions, coalesce divisions even. If you want to share information with clients, you can do that as seamlessly as you share internally. Create a Sharepoint site, upload the data and then invite people to connect and collaborate.
As you might imagine, said business that moved to the cloud now has hardware, software, maintenance and energy costs that will, at the very least, be significantly reduced. The arguments for moving to this thing they call the ‘Cloud’ become more compelling as we pull back the covers.
Can it be all sunshine?
There are some things that we need to be aware of when moving to the cloud. The benefits do go further than the simple arguments outlined above, and in another blog we will look in a little more detail at a number of advantages and some matters that will also need to be addressed. I would not call them pros and cons, more accurately benefits and requirements. Until then, please do feel free to comment.