What You Need to Know About Cloud Computing

by Mark on February 7th, 2011 3 comments

After Web 2.0 cloud computing has to be one of the most widely used buzzwords, one which very few of us understand fully. This comes as no surprise since it is believed that this revolutionary concept is still in its infancy and means different things to different people. The most commonly accepted definition sets forth the meaning of cloud computing as an architecture, which provides data, resources, and software to the end users. Unlike a single server or a cluster of servers, this architecture is location-independent and offers single point of access to the consumers who do not have to be aware of the technology behind it.

How does cloud computing work?

The combination of hardware, software, and connections forms a virtual machine, which is often divided into two main layers: a front end and a back end.The front end is everything that the users see and need to be aware of, while the back end could utilize existing software and hardware infrastructure, and grow easily by adding additional “virtual machines” when the demand for usage grows. The three different sections of cloud computing are platforms, infrastructure, and applications, where the applications on demand are the most applied and visible segment.

What are the pros and cons of cloud computing?

1. Cost – the most obvious advantage of this concept is cost as cloud computing allows medium and small companies and organizations, and even single users to utilize the powers of large infrastructures, without having to invest substantial amounts of money. The end-users simply have access to an application, which is ran on a cluster of third party servers, and the customers pay only for what they use; in certain cases, this model could help a company cut its IT expenses down by up to 70%!

2. Scalability is another obvious advantage as an organization could scale up and down without having to make any capital expenditure and provision for future expansion. This is particular useful for businesses, which have seasonal lows and highs, and especially beneficial in today’s times of financial instability, when the future of many companies is uncertain.

3. Mobility – cloud computing is not tied up to a single computer and the services and applications can be easily accessed from various devices. This is ideal for companies and businesses, which have mobile or International workforce.

4. Easy implementation – there is no need to buy mail servers, database hosts, or any other expensive hardware, invest into expensive local area networks and then install many software applications as well.

5. Automatic updates are offered to the end user since the provider is responsible for installing the latest updates of their software and adding new additional features.

6. Lower energy consumption – due to its versatility, the cloud computing uses less energy than the traditional computing models.

There are various other advantages too, but this model does have its shortcomings as well.

1. Security – One of the most commonly cited cons of cloud computing is security. In essence, your data is in the hands of third party and you have no control over what happens on their end. Even though most of the cloud-computing providers are well-known and reputable companies, entrusting them with your company’s sensitive information is what many security experts would advise against.

2. Fast Internet Connection is Essential – This architecture is typically delivered over the Internet and a fast connection is essential, and even in that case the web applications could be much slower than similar applications, running on a desktop computer.

3. Less Features than Similiar Desktop Applications – The customers are also subjected to the provider’s terms and conditions, and the web applications that they use might be less feature-rich than similar desktop applications.

Examples of Cloud Computing

If everything up to this point sounded a bit abstract, here are a few cloud computing services that you are probably familiar with:

Email Services – Microsoft’s Windows Live Mail and Google’s Gmail are two web email providers that are used by millions of people worldwide and a perfect example of cloud computing. They are accessible from anywhere in the World, from various devices, and provide excellent functionality to the end user.

The various social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace allow thousands of users to connect with each other, without having to know much about the technology or the processes that make this possible.

Online backup services are yet another example of how useful this technology can be – instead of burning disk after disk on your CD or DVD writer, you could easily upload your important files and documents to services like Mozy, iDrive, JungleDisk, or Carbonite. Most of them offer plans, which are suitable for all kinds of users and provide automatic backup too, which could save you not only time, but would protect your precious data effectively as well.

Google Docs and Zoho are two other services, which many computer users are familiar with and they allow them not only to store their spreadsheets and various other documents online, but also easily share them with colleagues and friends. These services facilitate easy collaboration and allow the same document to be edited by more than one person.

Amazon Web Services is another cloud computing, they offer computer power, storage, and other services “in the cloud.” Dependable, scalable, and reliable, the company’s massive infrastructure allows small and medium businesses and even single users to take advantage of its power.

Twilio is a unique company, which offers voice and SMS cloud services and allows its users to make and receive phone calls and send text messages online.

Cloud computing might sound truly exciting right now but its future is even more promising. We are likely to see its true powers in the next few years. The faster and more reliable Internet connections get and the speedier personal computers become will render traditional data and server centers obsolete, and will result in more companies relying on cloud computing. The further technological development is also likely to mainstream these kinds of services and make them more accessible and more affordable for the single user as well.

What is your take on cloud computing? Do you have a particular cloud based service you enjoy using? Please share with us in the comments.