What is Cloud Computing?


Cloud computing is being talked about more and more and some are getting rather excited about it. This term is cropping up from technical seminars to the glossy magazines that come with your Sunday newspapers.

So what is cloud computing and how might it affect your business?

Cloud computing is a way of using computers where the computer resources (software and hardware) are provided as a service over the internet and are dynamically scalable and often virtual (i.e. not necessarily in one known place). What this means to users is that the information they use is stored on computers somewhere else (other than there local PC) and can be accessed where, when and how they want it.

Cloud computing customers don’t generally own the physical infrastructure on which the applications run and store the data. Instead, they rent usage from a third-party provider and then use the system as they need it, much as people use gas or electricity. The more resources they use (such as more users having access to an application or using more disk space for storing data) the more they pay.

This is a new term and is being hailed as a revolution with companies claiming to offer amazing cloud computing services.

The reality is that many businesses and home users are already using cloud computing without even realising it. Any business that uses an application operated by another company and accessed via a web browser is using cloud computing; any home user that uses a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace is using cloud computing.

The advantage of the cloud concept is that the information is held centrally (somewhere) and can be accessed from multiple locations using multiple devices.

So, should you jumping on the cloud computing band-wagon?

The chances are you’re already doing a bit. The question is, would your business benefit from using systems managed elsewhere?

The main advantages are:

  • Reduced Initial Cost – Cloud technology is paid for over time saving up front capital expenditure.
  • Increased and more flexible storage – Organisations can store more data than on private computer systems and increase it at will.
  • Upgrades and fixes managed automatically – The service provider manages all software updates and ensures version compatibility removing the burden from the business.
  • Flexibility – Cloud computing offers more flexibility (such as scalability and methods of access) than traditional computing methods.
  • More Mobility – Employees can access information wherever they are, rather than having to remain at their desks.
  • Allows IT to Shift Focus – Without the issues of server upgrades, hardware fixes, etc, the focus of IT can move further towards business benefits.

And the disadvantages…

  • Lack of control of data storage – Users don’t physically possess the storage of their data (except where they back up to a local storage device which is sometimes possible) so responsibility of data storage and control in the hands of the provider. Can you be 100% sure that your data is safe?
  • Confusion over responsibility – Given the virtual nature and complexity of cloud systems it is much more difficult for businesses to check and manage system changes from a business impact or a contractual perspective
  • Compatibility issues – At this stage there is no sure way to know that different cloud solutions (as one provider is unlikely to provide everything you will ever need) will integrate and be compatible with each other.
  • Being “locked in” to a provider – Cloud computing has been criticized for limiting the freedom of users and making them dependent on the cloud computing provider, and some critics have alleged that it is only possible to use applications or services that the provider is willing to offer.
  • Privacy – Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, believes that cloud computing endangers liberties because users sacrifice their privacy and personal data to a third party. He stated that cloud computing is “simply a trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that would cost them more and more over time.”
  • Points of failure – Even if data is securely stored in a cloud, many factors can temporarily disrupt access to the data, such as network outages, viral attacks against the service provider, and a major failure of the service provider infrastructure.

So what’s our advice?

We recommend that a business considering cloud computing should review their needs and objectives alongside the pros and cons of cloud computing whilst also reviewing the alternatives in the same way.