What is Cloud Computing?

Image of cloudsFinding a definition for Cloud Computing is not a simple task.  You will find thousands of sites with definitions that vary month-to-month.  Simply look at Wikipedia’s definition and you will have some idea how complex this term has gotten and how difficult is is to understand.

Cloud Computing Definition

I am chuckling as I write this because I could not find one ‘definitive’ definition.  I knew I was in trouble when I ran across an article on Cloud Computing Journal entitled Twenty-One Experts Define Cloud Computing.  If twenty-one experts have differing definitions, there is definitely room for interpretation.  It is a good article and I recommend you read it, however, you will not find a simple definition there either.  What you will see are some good ideas about the various ways in which people will use this technology.

Most of us are familiar with accessing remote computer systems.  If you use a free email service that receives, stores and manages the computer systems that contain your email, you are aware of using remote files and remote services.  Yes, you can download your email to your home computer, but as long as they reside with Gmail, Yahoo or some other provider, you don’t have to manage them.  If there is a problem, someone else fixes it.  You may never know what caused the problem, or how it was fixed, you just know you did not have to worry about it.

We have also become masters of sharing our personal stories online.  You may login to Facebook or Yahoo or Gmail to send or receive mail and updates from friends and family, you may upload photographs to Flickr or Photobucket, and you may share your personal updates and photographs through various social networks.  None of which you must personally manage outside of the content.

The one thing that these services have in common is they are generally free, so the amount of information you are allowed to store there is limited.  Once you have reached your maximum, you may be required to delete files to make room for more.

There are often paid upgrades available which may increase your storage, but you will still have limits that control how much of your information can be stored without additional cost.  This is true with the web hosting companies that host your websites.  You have a maximum amount of disk storage available to you and you also have a maximum amount of bandwidth allocated for your individual use.  Surpass that number and your website stops working until some time has passed (usually monthly for bandwidth) or you pay to have additional resources allocated to you (this does not always happen immediately).

With me so far?

How Cloud Computing Differs

Cloud computing generally means that you are using some vendor’s service to provide your computer processing needs.  Through a remote device (laptop, iPad, smart phone, etc.)  you can interact and request changes to the services you buy from this vendor.  You may have a month-end sales campaign that requires double the resources a the end of the month.  Cloud Computing has been likened to how we buy our utility services – we pay for what we use.  You will have scalability – you can start small and grow as needed.  All of this can be accomplished without being a computer expert.  All is managed by someone else.  You have access to communicate your needs to the provider and then they handle the changes.

Cloud Computing generally means that many computer servers are available to you as you need them.  These servers may be located in various locations, managed by multiple teams of people, running various software – all things the consumer will no longer be concerned with.

What are the Risks of Cloud Computing?

Some say there are no risks.  The consumer no longer has a need to purchase and scale hardware, worry about software licensing, and pay technical staff to manage the data center.  I say, consider your business and your needs.

A simple Google search will show you how many companies now offer Cloud Computing.  Who are these companies?  You may find yourself stepping into an area in which you have no expertise.  Evaluate your business model and then shop for vendors.  Do you process credit card transactions?  Can this company offer PCI Compliance?  How are backups handled?  Do you have other in-house systems that must integrate with ‘the cloud’?  Study the contracts.  What happens if the company you choose goes bankrupt?  Are there service level agreements?  Are you protected from the failures of the other companies your supplier does business with?  How can you terminate the contract if the vendor fails to deliver on their promises?

Just like any other business venture, do your research upfront.   Find their customers.  Make sure they are satisfied customers.  Protect your investment and protect your data.  Not every business model needs Cloud Computing, but be knowledgeable.  You never know what tomorrow may bring.