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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Enterprise Cloud Computing 101

If you ask ten people to define cloud computing, you will most likely get ten different definitions. For the purpose of this post, cloud computing is defined as processing capacity, data storage and application software accessed over the Internet. Cloud computing enables users to access their applications and data any time, any place and from any device. Similar to traditional services offerings, cloud computing is generally divided into either business or consumer markets. This post will focus on the basics of cloud computing in the enterprise.

There can be three types of clouds in the enterprise. First, a private cloud is where a company provides hosted services to specific users behind a firewall. Second, a public cloud is where a vendor provides resources to the public on a pay-per-usage basis. Third, a hybrid cloud is where an organization provides certain resources in-house (private cloud) and has other resources provided externally (public cloud). There are three building blocks of cloud computing. Each has a different level of flexibility and control. The three building blocks include:

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). IaaS enables users to run applications and store data on a cloud vendor’s infrastructure. Amazon Web Services, GoGrid and Rackspace are three companies with mainstream IaaS offerings. The key benefits of IaaS include: Elasticity. The ability to increase or decrease computing requirements within minutes. Flexibility. The ability to choose the specification of each instance of computing power purchased. Inexpensive. No dedicated capital investment required. Reliability. Leverage the vendor’s datacenter and networking expertise.

The fundamental unit of cloud infrastructure is the server. Servers can be physical or virtual. A physical server is an individual computer. A virtual server is a slice of a physical server, but independently used and administered. Virtualization allows multiple users to share the processing power of a physical server. While virtual servers are more cost effective than physical servers, they are often considered less secure if the same hardware is shared between customers. Consequently, there are four categories of IaaS depending on the types of servers involved.

First, vendor-managed private cloud. Physical servers are co-located and dedicated to one customer. While the most secure, it cannot be dynamically scaled. Second, dedicated hosting. Physical servers are rented on-demand from anywhere in the datacenter. While hardware can be mixed-in with other customers, no physical servers are shared. Third, hybrid hosting. A mix of physical servers and virtual instances are rented on-demand. Fourth, cloud hosting. Virtual instances are rented on-demand and all physical servers shared with other customers.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). PaaS enables users to develop, run and maintain their own cloud applications using vendor-specific languages and tools. Google App Engine by Google, Force.com by Salesforce.com and Windows Azure by Microsoft are three mainstream PaaS offerings. A key benefit of PaaS is the ability to rapidly develop cloud applications at a low cost in either public or private environments. A potential determinant of PaaS is having development limited to one vendor’s specific language and tools (vendor lock-in).

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). SaaS enables users to access applications via a browser. There is no software to install and minimal configurations to make. Examples of companies delivering business applications via SaaS are ADP (payroll), NetSuite (ERP) and Salesforce.com (CRM). The key benefits of SaaS include always running the most current version of software (no deployment or security patching) and paying as a subscription (no up-front cost). A potential detriment of SaaS is generic software offerings often are not suitable for every business.

Cloud computing enables users to focus on their core competencies. If you cannot manage Exchange better than Microsoft, why not let them do it? Instead of maintaining Exchange, IT can shift their efforts toward adding value and creating impact. Cloud computing also lowers costs by reducing hardware, power, software and space requirements. Consuming cloud services as needed is also a significant business advantage. While reliability and security remain executive concerns, cloud vendors take extraordinary measures to ensure their services are enterprise-class.

1 comment:

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