Cloud Computing For Businesses: A Top IT Outsourcing Trend for 2011
Cloud computing is one of the great technological evolutions of our time, but amid all the marketing hype, it can quickly become a fuzzy or abstract concept. To understand it better, one only needs to keep in mind what clouds represent:
- vastness on a grand scale,
- endless variation and constantly-changing patterns, and
- the comfort and security of knowing that wherever you go, they're always there.
In many ways, cloud computing holds the same promise for businesses looking to outsource their computing needs.
What Is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing refers to computing resources, software, or services that are hosted and fully managed by a provider, which are instantly scalable and sold on demand over the Internet or other large network. Some popular applications include web hosting, remote file storage, and a host of web-based applications including webmail and online collaboration tools like Google Docs.
The basic architecture consists of a front end, or cloud client (a computer, smartphone, or other device) which the client uses to access the cloud, or back end. The cloud consists of a large network of servers, remote storage, or other devices which have been linked together to run an application in a configuration that is both flexible and easily scalable. Because any necessary software or services are hosted by a provider in the cloud, the cloud client can normally consist of any platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, smartphone) and can access the services from anywhere.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
The appeal of cloud computing is that you only pay for what you need (no more excess capacity or unused software licenses). You can leverage huge networks of resources and hardware that would be too cost-prohibitive or difficult for an average business to maintain. There's no need to install, upgrade, or manage software on hundreds of computers across a corporate network anymore. And issues like computer security, capacity planning and build out of infrastructure, and balancing of traffic are managed by a third party who specializes in these concerns, freeing you to focus on your core business.
A Cloud Computing Example
Let's say that you work in corporate IT in the retail industry and you're tasked with building an e-commerce web site for a new product your company is introducing for the holiday season. Because the demand for the product is untested, you only have a general guess at the amount of traffic that is going to hit the site. You could purchase or rent a dedicated server and software yourself, and make your best guess at how much memory, bandwidth, and processing power you will need. But even with the best of planning, you might find that you overbought and wasted precious IT budget or worse, you might find your site crushed with traffic from a single mention on CNN or Yahoo, and it's now completely offline during the biggest sales season of the year.
Had you hosted the site with a cloud web hosting solution instead, you'd have the peace of mind of knowing that a vast network stood ready to meet any demand. And with metered billing (a common pricing option with many cloud providers), there'd be no waste of budget while you're waiting for that big spike.
Top Cloud Computing Companies
As with any hot new technology, many companies are rushing to get a piece of the cloud market. But a few stand out among the crowd:
- Amazon Web Services - Amazon is the largest provider of public cloud computing services and was a pioneer in the field through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division, which launched in 2006. Amazon found that the vast network which powered its online bookselling and retail business had a large amount of excess capacity which was going unused, which it could rent out to cloud clients. The fact that Amazon Web Services powers Amazon's site, as well as clients such as Netflix and Foursquare, means you are getting access to a world class network. Their offerings include web hosting, e-commerce and payments, storage, e-mail and messaging, and many others. Recent network problems aside, they remain a leader in the industry.
- Rackspace - Rackspace's offerings center on cloud hosting, scalable online storage, and cloud load balancers. They have over 100,000 cloud customers and feature an easily scalable model and usage-based pricing.
- Google Apps – Google's cloud offering is Google Apps For Business, which focuses on cloud software useful to businesses like webmail, office software, and web publishing. Their Google Cloud Connect solution allows simultaneous editing of Microsoft Office documents from across the web. Google Apps offers a 30-day free trial of their services.
- VMWare – VMWare's approach to the cloud makes use of its expertise in virtualization software, and can be well-suited for companies making use of multiple OS's and platforms.
Getting Started With Cloud Computing
Although the cloud can simplify your IT operations in many ways, it's still important to make the right choices up front to ensure your business is utilizing the right solution and strategy. Our IT specialists at Infidati can help you develop and manage your cloud computing implementation, to ensure your IT outsourcing strategy is nothing but blue skies.