Are Cloud Services Ready for Prime Time?
Several of our clients have been asking us about “the Cloud” and what it means. Is it really ready for prime time? How is it used? What does it cost? And why would we migrate away from our standard server environment for “the Cloud?”
In reality, this isn’t a new environment. Its uses are expanding and costs and support services are evolving, so for some it seems like a new environment. Cloud computing has been around for more than a decade – the iTunes store is a good example of Cloud computing.
Essentially, Cloud computing is about providing a service for computing needs, rather than hardware and related support services.
Once you get past the essential definition, Cloud computing can be a lot of things. There are scores of predictions about how it will impact the IT marketplace in the coming few years. The key change is that all of your computing resources will be kept on service providers host hardware, as opposed to hardware you own or lease. It leads to another acronym: Software as a Service, or SaaS, or “on demand” software. This variation goes back to the mid-1960s, when mainframe providers acted as service bureaus and hosted a company’s data – which was accessed via terminal displays and keyboards, also known as dumb terminals.
The potential for Cloud computing is huge. International Data Corp (IDC) expects IT Cloud service spending will grow from $16 Billion in 2008 to more than $42 Billion this year (2012). IT expenditures may grow to one third of all IT growth by the end of 2013.
The key argument is that once you migrate to the Cloud, your data and services will be not only safer, but easier to configure. The aspect of using virtual host servers, often referred to as VMs, or Virtual Machines is really important, as the potential loss of data is (in theory) greatly reduced.
But Cloud computing is not without its growing pains, and it’s important that an ongoing evaluation take place relative to that growth. The research entity the Yankee Group reports that key risks include reliability, security, additional cost of bandwidth, and becoming married to a single vendor with complex issues related to vendor divorce.
Cloud computing may prove to be an excellent service option for a data center. It creates a strong revenue opportunity, while reducing the cost per client for hosting, support, and bandwidth. It also gives a data center a new model for pricing, as they can price both the use of the cloud and the bandwidth related to data transfer. In addition, support services, number of connections, and other elements of being connected to the Internet will expand the billing options for host providers.
Major cloud-computing services include Amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services, Google’s Google Apps, and Salesforce.com’s Force.com. Microsoft’s Windows Azure provides general cloud-based computing resources to business and consumers. The company also offers specific Internet-based applications such as Dynamics CRM Online for customer-relationship management, Exchange Online for messaging, Office Communications Online for instant messaging, and SharePoint Online for collaboration. Other cloud providers include AppNexus, GoGrid, GridLayer, Mosso, and XCalibre Communications. New services from Cisco and Oracle are evolving as well.
How does Cloud computing work? Broken down into basic services, a Cloud computing provider will offer a service that may be distributed over multiple locations, including both applications and data. These services may include virtualization, grid, management, database, and other types of software; user interfaces; APIs; a communications infrastructure for connecting to users over the Internet or a private network; not to mention usage monitoring and billing mechanisms.
Cloud infrastructures enable a user to start small, and to grow via the use of a “control panel” that provides access to the “virtual machine” being used. In other words, if you need to add RAM, log in and make the change. It’s instant. If you want to add processors and storage, log in and make the change. These web based or API-based solutions are proprietary to each entity offering the service, although most use standard web services, such as SOAP.
Generally speaking, there are four options for Cloud services, including:
- Services: Some products offer Internet-based services—such as storage, middleware, collaboration, and database capabilities—directly to users.
- SaaS: Software-as-a-service products provide a complete, turnkey application—including complex programs such as those for CRM or enterprise-resource management—via the Internet.
- PaaS: Platform-as-a-service products offer a full or partial development environment that users can access and utilize online, even in collaboration with others.
- IaaS: Infrastructure-as-a-service products deliver a full computer infrastructure via the Internet.
How will this affect R/com and you, our clients?
We’re beginning to implement Cloud services for specific functions, such as system backups. When tied to your hardware, you’ll now have a new option related to application and data protection.
In the spring, we’ll offer a pilot program of SaaS, enabling you to migrate your entire server solution to the Cloud. Your primary servers will become useful development and local host backup environments. In each case, we want to ensure that these services are competitive and provide each of our clients with an evolution in service that is measurable and delivers an appropriate return on investment.
In the coming week or two, I’ll address the issue of benefits vs. risk for Cloud services. The Internet continues to move at mach 2 plus, and I hope these discussions are useful to you and your team as we continue to look at efficient and secure solutions to maximize your use of the Internet.