What is Cloud Computing?

April 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Making sense of “The Cloud” for people like you and me.

Your website is in here somewhere.With all the buzz surrounding the concept of cloud computing and people asking me what it is exactly, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and try to answer the question. I come to this subject as a marketing guy who knows a lot about technology but not enough to fix your Mom’s PC that just crashed. Like most of you, you’re probably wondering what the cloud is, just like me. Let’s explore.

In the beginning, there were servers…

Just a few short years ago, I was drawing diagrams for clients to explain the concept of the Internet. Simplified, your computer goes out to the Internet and grabs data from a server that lives somewhere else in the world.

The Old Cloud

The Internet, for as long as I can remember, was always pictured as a nebulous, fluffy cloud, which went a long way towards explaining nothing.

I can imagine a Buddy Holly nerd and a Santa Claus sysadmin making this up together at Xerox PARC in 1970: “The suits will never get this so let’s just draw a cloud when things get froggy.”

Fast Forward to 2011

Since nothing has really changed with the explanation of what the cloud is, let’s get down to brass tacks and discuss what it isn’t. It isn’t a photo editing software tool, which Microsoft would like you to believe with their To The Cloud campaign. It isn’t a magical place where “God allowed all the clouds to be connected together by the angels” as described in this Cisco video.

Finally, it isn’t where all your data live distributed amongst several servers where resources scale on demand and the worries of your Super Bowl ad committing unnecessary roughness on your server are a thing of the past. Rather, this is known as a data center, and more specifically, grid computing. At In10sity, we’ve been doing this for several years and it is nothing new.

So, just what is cloud computing?

Beyond being more jargon from the same marketing group consciousness that brought us lovely terms such as Push Media, Crowdsourcing, Social Currency, and Advergame, cloud computing is a shift in thinking in how you buy and consume your computing resources. The best way to look at it is, in the past you have been used to paying a more or less fixed fee for your monthly data hosting plan in exchange for a fixed amount of disk space and data transfer (aka bandwidth). What the industry is moving towards is charging you for what you use much like you pay for electricity or any other utility that is metered. The problem is company leaders are scared to make the leap to cloud computing because nobody wants an unexpected ginormous bill at the end of the month. At least when you buy a new home you can look at what the prior owner’s utility bills looked like for the past year. Cloud computing will become more popular when people can better understand the array of services offered as well as what to expect to pay each month.

Amazon, you’re not helping me make this easy.

As part of my research for this article, I created an account on Amazon Web Services. AWS is perhaps the most established cloud out there, and I figured they must have made it as easy to buy as a book (Cloud Computing for Dummies?). Boy, was I wrong. With 25 offerings under their products tab, you really need to know what you’re looking for to make it work. The fact that AWS suffered a severe outage with its EC2 Cloud Service last week doesn’t inspire confidence, either. Applications such as HootSuite and Foursquare were down for hours along with a raft of other sites.

Is the cloud for your business? It depends. If you’re hosting a simple website probably not. If you deal with tons of data and your internal data center fixed costs are fixin’ to go higher with every server and pipe you buy, cloud computing’s “pay for what you eat” model may be the way to go. Over the next ten years, we’ll continue to see a shift towards utility based billing no matter what you call it.

To the Cloud, Robin!

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