Cloud Computing 101: Learning the Basics
To hear the experts tell it, cloud computing may be the most innovative technology development in decades—and the greatest thing since sliced bread—or should be dismissed as a marketing tool for existing know how that's as old as computers themselves and no more revolutionary than pre-packaged bagels.
"Cloud computing is fundamentally new," says Bryan Plug, CEO of Accept Corporation, a management software service company.
"It's an improved way of acquiring business services and is the proverbial 'better, faster, cheaper' way to run many business functions. It's not just a marketing tool," Plug adds.
"The concept of cloud computing is not new," counters Bill Abram, founder and president of Pragmatix, an IT services and technology consulting firm. "In fact, the term 'cloud' is used as a metaphor for the Internet. It's mainly a marketing term."
OK, food analogy aside, we can't settle the debate between Plug and Abram on the uniqueness of cloud computing. But there are some issues that can be resolved without too much controversy: just what is cloud computing, who uses it, and what are the benefits and risks?
So here are some questions and answers that should help shed more light on the subject and create a better understanding of this advertising gimmick—or cutting-edge revolution.
What is Cloud Computing?
The official definition from the National Institute of Standards and Technology reads: "Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services)that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."
Translation? Accessing the Internet anywhere, anytime and being able to use any or all of the data and applications that you want.
"Consumers don't completely understand it yet and there's been a lot of hype, but it's having your data or software stored somewhere besides your PC or Mac and being able to get it through the Internet," explains Chris Geiser, CTO of The Garrigan Lyman Group, a digital marketing and advertising agency.
When the technical jargon is stripped away, cloud computing can be grasped on its basic level— anytime, anywhere computing—without the user ever having to know much about the technology.
Even if not fully understood, cloud computing usage has nearly become universal as we'll see in just a bit.
How Does It Work?
In simplest terms, cloud computing involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. The service end is where the data or software is stored and the user end is a single person or company network.
"Cloud computing minimizes the hardware, like memory, and application requirements, like word processing, for the users and pools those resources in the 'cloud," says Danny McPerson, CSO of Verisign.
So, a company in the business of hosting has specified data stored on its servers, a user fires up their computer, connects to the web (and to the servers holding their data), clicks on their application software and away they go.
What gets somewhat mind-numbing are the kinds of storage systems services used in cloud computing. There are three basic 'alphabet soup' levels of storage capabilities, but there's no real need to go into those here. Any or all three can be offered by the same provider—for a price.
And there are so-called public, private or hybrid clouds; public meaning the data is accessible to anyone, private being subject to a company's firewall or security system, and hybrid, which combines both public and private.
But it's fairly safe to say that most users are more than likely to be content knowing their data is stored somewhere other than their computer and they have access to it whenever and whereever they go online.
Who Uses Cloud Computing?
You are probably using it right now.
"Consumers and businesses utilize the cloud on a daily basis even if they're not aware of it," says Mike Marcellin, VP of product marketing and strategy at Juniper Networks , which offers cloud ready network solutions. "Recent surveys show that most companies are using the cloud in some way."
If you use email, or go to a social network and post photos, access online document software, or use your company's hardware/software, you're probably using the cloud. You may also use it to store online tax or financial records. You can also use cloud computing to back up files for storage off your PC or Mac.