What is Cloud Computing?

March 20, 2011

Everyone in the IT industry is talking about cloud computing, but there is still confusion about what the cloud is, how it should be used and what problems and challenges it might introduce. This FAQ will answer some of the key questions enterprises are asking about cloud computing.

What is cloud computing?
Gartner defines cloud computing as “a style of computing in which massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.” Beyond the Gartner definition, clouds are marked by self-service interfaces that let customers acquire resources at any time and get rid of them the instant they are no longer needed.

The cloud is not really a technology by itself. Rather, it is an approach to building IT services that harnesses the rapidly increasing horsepower of servers as well as virtualization technologies that combine many servers into large computing pools and divide single servers into multiple virtual machines that can be spun up and powered down at will.

How is cloud computing different from utility, on-demand and grid computing?
Cloud by its nature is “on-demand” and includes attributes previously associated with utility and grid models. Grid computing is the ability to harness large collections of independent compute resources to perform large tasks, and utility is metered consumption of IT services, says Kristof Kloeckner, the cloud computing software chief at IBM. The coming together of these attributes is making the cloud today’s most “exciting IT delivery paradigm,” he says. 
Fundamentally, the phrase cloud computing is interchangeable with utility computing, says Nicholas Carr, author of “The Big Switch” and “Does IT Matter?” The word “cloud” doesn’t really communicate what cloud computing is, while the word “utility” at least offers a real-world analogy, he says. “However you want to deal with the semantics, I think grid computing, utility computing and cloud computing are all part of the same trend,” Carr says.
Carr is not alone in thinking cloud is not the best word to describe today’s transition to Web-based IT delivery models. For the enterprise, cloud computing might best be viewed as a series of “online business services,” says IDC analyst Frank Gens.
What is a public cloud?
Naturally, a public cloud is a service that anyone can tap into with a network connection and a credit card. “Public clouds are shared infrastructures with pay-as-you-go economics,” explains Forrester analyst James Staten in an April report. “Public clouds are easily accessible, multitenant virtualized infrastructures that are managed via a self-service portal.”
What is a private cloud?
A private cloud attempts to mimic the delivery models of public cloud vendors but does so entirely within the firewall for the benefit of an enterprise’s users. A private cloud would be highly virtualized, stringing together mass quantities of IT infrastructure into one or a few easily managed logical resource pools.
New cloud applications are being introduced to small business on regular basis. Here are a list of recommended cloud apps:
  1. Google Apps for Business: Google is the household name, and it has all needed to offer a reliable and secure online office tools – even before the cloud is as popular as today – Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail, etc. – you can access all of them in a secure and private environment with 24/7 support. The “personal” version is free, while the business version is offered at $50 per user per year.
  2. Skype: Forget the latest historic downtime – Skype is one of the most trusted and reliable cloud-based companies offering free Internet call, with Pay As You Go and subscription-based plans to call on any phones to meet your small business needs.
  3. SalesForce: A household name in cloud computing for customer relationship management (CRM). Also one of the front-runners in the cloud, SalesForce is growing its arsenal of cloud apps: Sales Cloud, Force.com, Service Cloud, and the latest, Database.com. SalesForce can help your small business to manage everything related to your sales-generating activities in a centralised “dashboard.”
  4. Basecamp: One of the leaders in online collaboration and project management. It can help your stakeholders to discuss, update, upload/download, share – anything you can think of – in one single web account, in real time. Basecamp claims that there are over 5 million people worldwide who are using it.
  5. Quickbase: This online database software can help your small business tech team to create online database application from scratch or use more than 200 templates. Don’t have someone to build database app, yet? Intuit’s Quickbase can recommend you one of 160 partners to help you out.
  6. Box.net: A cloud storage service provider allowing you to share, manage and access files and folders online in a secured and private environment. You can also collaborate to update documents on the fly with your business team members or clients.
  7. Outright: If you are like me, you’ll gonna like this cloud finance app – Outright will help you with your business accounting by allowing you to track income/expenses, tax obligations, and profits/losses in real time, online. No more hiring/firing bookkeeper for your business finances.
  8. Evernote: I call Evernote a “cloud reminder” or “cloud scratchpad” if you will, simply because of what it does best – it helps you to store your ideas, notes, reminders, schedules, to-dos, audios, images, videos, etc. for you to recall and review later on.
  9. Mozy: The industry leader for online backup of any kind of data and information – images, documents, audios, etc. You can use Mozy cloud app to back up your entire business, regardless of your business’ size. With Mozy, you are not location-constrained – you can backup and access your backup remotely.
  10. SiteCloud: Cloud hosting is great to host your small business website because it’s on-demand and scalable – in real time. You are guaranteed service availability due to the nature of the cloud – no issues regarding a sudden surge of web traffic to your site. You can switch plan anytime you want, without service interruption.
I recommend you to make use of the free plan or free trials offered by the cloud apps – trying the services is the only way to make sure that you choose the best for your small business.
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