The cloud is coming! The cloud is coming! Everywhere you look, the virtues of cloud computing
are being touted. Ads, research reports, news stories and websites are singing the praises of this
technological revolution. The cloud powers iTunes and its millions of users.
Google’s selling a laptop that bypasses a traditional,
local operating system and plugs right into the cloud.
Countless startups are saving millions of dollars by
building products on a cloud infrastructure rather than
their own datacenters.
Sooner or later, you’ll have to come to terms with this
new paradigm of computing. You will be asked – probably
sooner than later – why you’re not hosting applications
and/or data in the cloud.
What is the cloud anyway?
Put simply, the cloud shifts the focus of computing away from
your computer or server. Instead, the computational or storage
heavy-lifting is handled remotely at a datacenter operated by a
provider. This business model might sound vaguely familiar. It’s similar to how the electric company
delivers power to your home, except a cloud provider delivers computing power rather than electrical
power. It also means computing is less a product and more of a service. A billable service, to be specific.
This still sounds familiar…
The idea of “renting” computer resources isn’t new. Back in the days of mainframe computers, companies,
researchers and students had to buy time to run their jobs. Such timesharing was common in the days
before there was a PC on every desk. Today, cloud computing is possible thanks to ideas hatched 40
years ago – and to huge advances in networking and the availability of bandwidth.
The concepts behind cloud computing are easy to grasp. Implementation is another story. Here are five
areas to think about before the cloud envelops your organization:
You’ve probably paid a lot more attention to your local area network than the wide area network over the
years. When computing shifts to the cloud, you’ll need to make sure your WAN pipes are up to the job.
Cloud computing involves shuttling a lot of data to your users from a remote datacenter. You’ll not only
need a lot of bandwidth but also a low-latency connection.
New points of failure
The introduction of a new computing architecture means the introduction of new potential failure points. If
there’s a problem, it could be caused by a specific app, the network or the cloud provider. If it’s an issue
with the provider, you’ll have to open a ticket with that company to get it resolved. You’ll want to make sure
your service-level agreements are in place – and that your contract with the provider includes the support
that your users need to do their jobs.
The shift of computing power from your local control to a service provider will likely mean a big revision to
your disaster recovery plans. You will have to take into account all that can go wrong with the provider as
well as your local offices.
- The good news: cloud providers are setting up highly redundant systems.
- The bad news: Some major providers – such as Microsoft and Amazon – have
generated headlines recently when their cloud services have gone offline.
Most likely, your accounting department will have to pay for cloud computing services out of a different part
of the budget. In the new world of cloud computing, the addition of capacity won’t involve the purchase of new
servers or networking equipment. Instead, you’ll see a bump in your monthly bill from the provider.
Basically, you’ll see an increase in your computing “rent.”
Keeping everything in synch
Whether you use the cloud to store data or host applications, you’ll need to figure out how to keep everything
synchronized. In some ways, the job becomes easier with the cloud. Once you’ve done an update to an
application, for instance, all users who access it via the cloud will have instant access to the latest version. It
becomes trickier when you need to synchronize applications and data between different cloud services, or
between a physical data center and the cloud.
Like any new technology, the cloud promises advantages and headaches. With advance planning – and lots
of testing – you’ll be able to maximize the benefits and minimize the problems when it’s time to shift into the
brave new world of cloud computing.
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