Defogging the Cloud

by CXOtoday Staff    Oct 23, 2009



Cloud computing has created huge interest across all sections and segments of IT and end user teams. However the real usage of cloud computing is still very foggy and not well understood by most; many times including even those who are a proponent of the same. This article is aimed at removing some of the fog that covers the cloud, making it easier to understand.

Demystifying the Cloud
The cloud concept is not entirely new. Most of us would have offered or used cloud-based services at some point of time in the past; knowingly or unknowingly. For example, the Internet by itself is a real example of a cloud-based service. Another classic case of a provider of cloud-based services is your local cable TV provider. We never know where it is being physically provisioned from or how it is built or who manages its operations, etc.

Wikipedia defines clouding computing as, ‘a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources are provided as a service over the Internet’. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the ‘cloud’ that supports them. The concept generally incorporates combinations of the following:

  • Infrastructure as a service (LaaS)
  • Platform as a service (PaaS)
  • Software as a service (SaaS)

The real reason why the cloud is now picking up so much steam is due to the fact that it has matured to the extent that it has now reached the business applications that really matter to most of the users in day-to-day life. Imagine that some of your most basic applications like accounting software, office applications, e-mails, etc. do not require you to procure any software permanently. You use them over the Web as and when you need them and pay only for the usage. It is pretty much like your electricity bill; what we term as utility-based services. You only pay for what you use.

In summary, cloud computing is in reality more of a disruptive business model rather than a new technology innovation.

Present Scenario of Cloud Computing
There are two major drivers for the growth of cloud computing. The biggest driver for cloud computing today is flexibility — the fact that our lives (business included) have become so dynamic that it is virtually impossible to plan for any resources well in advance. We need to scale up and scale down activities very quickly. As a result, we need the resources to be equally flexible in order for us to be able to carry out our tasks effectively.

The other driver is cost. In today’s competitive scenario cost is a big differentiator for most business houses. Traditional models are capital intensive and hence are not frugal when it comes to modern competitive markets. Cloud computing almost totally eliminates the need to make any large investments before your business really needs it and even then it is available almost instantaneously when the business need arises. This factor makes cloud computing a real game changer for many businesses today — especially in a difficult economic climate.


 
In simple language, it is really the difference between owning a car compared to renting a car or the difference between owning a gas cylinder for your kitchen and having a pipeline gas connection. The choice is really quite obvious and IT systems are now going through the normal evolution that most other systems have gone through in the past.

Many existing service providers have already embraced the cloud computing model and are reaping its benefits. The most popular ones include Salesforce.com, Amazon.com, Google, Microsoft, etc. While some service providers are really building or moving towards a true cloud-based model, many are in really only repackaging their services to offer them as a cloud-based service. Although this can be a smart thing to do to get started it may not yield benefits on a long term unless they really apply the principles of cloud computing to their services or products very quickly.

However cloud computing in its current form does face a few formidable challenges in its path towards higher adoption. The fundamental challenge is that of security of data. Most users will love to have the flexibility and price benefits but are equally worried about the safety, security and privacy of their data since the data is also stored ’somewhere’ in the cloud. Service providers will have to put significant efforts in building their models in a manner that give necessary peace of mind to their users. The other big concern that most early adopters of this model are facing are the issues surrounding the legal aspects and compliance of this model. Most existing providers have based their models on the basis of traditional norms and since this is a very disruptive model it will create many challenges that include software licensing, hardware provisioning, data sharing, security compliances, financial compliances, etc.

The Future of Cloud Computing
I do not intend to predict the accurate future of Cloud computing here but I am significantly confident that the cloud is here to stay and it will create a significant impact in our daily lives very soon. The scale at which the adoption of the cloud will increase is anybody’s guess but here are a few things that I believe will happen in the times to come:

  • I have a standard desktop PC at home and one fine day my son may want to play a racing game which needs significantly higher resources like CPU, memory, etc. I really do not see a need to upgrade the PC since most of the time it is used only for e-mails and basic other utilities. I will soon be able to buy some computing power and memory from a cloud service provider only when my son needs to play the game and I will pay for it only for the amount of time I use it.
  • A large company already has sufficient bandwidth to perform all its daily operations. Suddenly an urgent meeting is convened by the CEO to address the entire staff. Since it is a large organization spread globally most of its staff cannot physically travel to attend the meeting however they all are going to attend from their individual desktops or in conference rooms over a webcast. This means that the bandwidth requirement of the organization will surge significantly during this time. Very soon the organization will be able to order on demand additional bandwidth from a cloud provider only for the duration of the webcast and pay for it accordingly instead of making an additional permanent investment.
  • I have a very important presentation coming up in my office and I need some special software to make a graphical design to demonstrate the proposed design. I do not have the software and will have to normally buy it in order to use it. In the cloud era I will be able to use the cloud-based model of the software and only pay for the duration of the use and not worry about purchasing and maintaining it permanently.

Many such other scenarios can be possible that can drastically change the way we do business. However service providers will have to swiftly address the known challenges and make the offerings scalable in order for them to have an effective revenue model.