It seems that these days almost everywhere you turn there is a reference to “the cloud” and someone lauding its many virtues. The cloud certainly has a silver lining, and given the publicity it is getting, many a provider might find it actually has a golden lining. But aside from recognizing the cloud is an omnipotent force, just how do we define exactly what the cloud is? And if it is such a power for good, why isn’t everyone heading for the cloud?
Defining the cloud is perhaps not so simple. In the early days of IT things were simple – you owned a PC and you owned the software you needed to use the PC - which invariably meant owning the latest Windows operating system and the latest version of Microsoft office. The rise of the Internet changed this fundamental paradigm. For the first time services – especially Internet-based email services such as ‘Hotmail’ – were available to use when and where you needed them. It was no longer necessary to be at your PC to send an email, or check your calendar, and your ‘to do’ list was no longer written on the back of an envelope, but stored on a server somewhere in ‘cyberspace’. Turn on your office or home computer, or head to the nearest Internet café, and it was all there waiting and available for you.
After the launch of online email services, it was not much of a stretch of the imagination to determine that if email services could go online, other services could too. People began to envisage entire IT systems and workplace applications accessed through the Internet to offer convenience and flexibility to the workforce. The problem with this new idea was the need to establish in-house operations to manage online services. This meant an investment in manpower and hardware.
As with the idea that a range of services could be accessed through the Internet, it was not especially a leap of faith to consider the possibility that third-party operators could be utilized to deliver what the workplace needed. Using a third-party would eradicate the cost and complexity of a company managing its own IT division, and although such services would not be free, if they were shared amongst a number of end users, there would be no reason why payment should only be for services and resources used… Witness the birth of ‘the cloud’ or ‘cloud computing’ - the natural conclusion of a range of slightly similar ideas and similar practices.
There is no doubt that the cloud is ‘hot’ news at the moment and a range of variations of cloud offerings have emerged providing a multitude of technical synonyms for the tech savvy to learn. Consider these:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); Platform as a Service (PaaS); Software as a Service (SaaS); Storage as a Service (STaaS); Security as a Service (SECaaS); Data as a Service (DaaS); Database as a Service (DBaaS); Test Environment as a Service (TEaaS); Desktop Virtualization, API as a Service (APIaaS), and even Backend as a Service (BaaS).
Phew! It seems there’s a cloud service to meet any need - whatever it may be.
The bottom line for the cloud is – or at least it should be – whatever the cloud service, it is delivered on a “pay-per-use basis”. But let’s use Microsoft as an example - whereas previously people bought their own Microsoft Office software, now they can use the same service online at Office365. This is though a fixed cost, monthly subscription service, so is it strictly a cloud solution? With a multitude of such services, and a mass of variations, definition of what the cloud has become is increasingly less clear.
But why, if the cloud is such a good thing, isn’t everyone on board? As with any ‘revolution’, there are those who simply get on the bandwagon. Some web hosts are happy to label their services cloud services, when they are in fact simply traditional hosting services repackaged. That is why implementation of what is in fact a relatively new area needs careful navigation.
Although the authority inside a company might find pay-per-use an attractive idea and throw its weight behind rapid implementation of what it believes to be a major cost cutting initiative, many companies are taking a guarded approach to outright transition to the cloud. A lot of companies have moved to services like Office365 and Google Apps for internal communication and collaboration, but have maintained full control of software that manages financial transactions, despite cloud alternatives being available. Other companies require hybrid services where business systems are in the hands of third parties but use hardware, etc. dedicated to a particular company’s needs and exclusive use. Of particular concern is, of course, customer data and potential vulnerabilities in cloud-based systems. Many companies keep this data in house on their own servers.
So, what exactly is the cloud? Well it means a lot of things to a lot of people. And why isn’t everyone moving into the cloud? Well, fact is, at various speeds and in different ways, they are. Some are diving headlong into the cloud, while others are testing the waters before committing. In the final analysis though, the route seems clear. In future, all but the most immediate of services will be in the cloud and pay-per-use.