What is. Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is an IT service that provides computing power and storage away from your own company or organisation. The ‘cloud’ just means a remote data centre is handling the services required rather than a local IT system.
Cloud services are also popular with individuals who want some off-site storage for their material such as family photos or work files. Things you say to yourself – if my house burned down right now, what pictures \ data \ material would I really miss?
For day-to-day use, staff connect to the remote service via a fast internet connection or a dedicated leased line.
For example, Amazon has a vast IT infrastructure built to deal with its own business. But they realised that they had a lot of idle computing power and storage – so why not rent it out to other companies or people? So that is what they did and is called the ‘S3’ service.
Another huge company – Google – also has lots of spare capacity in its data centres around the world. So they too are offering companies the ability to rent that resource.
Many other providers are entering the arena with competitive products.
The unique selling point is straightforward for the customer
1. They do not need to invest in their own IT hardware \ staff to such an extent.
2. Critical company data is safe in dedicated data centres, with multiple backups around the world.
3. If the company expands or there is a surge in customer demand, they simply rent more computing power and storage.
4. Private individuals are reassured in the knowledge that their most important material is stored safely online.
A very handy feature is the ‘virtual computer’. A normal computer is only useful if it is loaded with an operating system and the software applications you want to use. This takes a lot of time and effort to set up and it takes even longer if something goes wrong so you have to re-install everything again.
With a virtual computer, the entire software setup is stored as an ‘image’ – a binary file that is an exact copy of the ‘real’ computer. This image is then loaded onto powerful hardware in the cloud and runs as if it were a normal machine – this is called an ‘instance’.
You can open and shut as many instances as you wish to pay for. An example of this kind of facility is offered within the Amazon EC2 service.
Of course, all this costs money. You would have to work out whether it is cheaper to use local machines or to hire virtual machines in the cloud.
You would have to consider whether it is better to have IT expertise within your company or to ‘outsource’ it to a cloud service.
If you have huge data sets to handle then the issue of downloading / uploading can also be a problem.
Cloud computing will continue to expand its services. Standard ‘office’ type applications are now available as a cloud service: word processing, spreadsheet etc are not loaded on a local computer but instead the person is connected to a cloud version. The risk of course, is if the internet link breaks of some other problem occurs then no-one in your company can do their work. But the benefits of virtual office software may outweigh the risks.
Challenge see if you can find out one extra fact on this topic that we haven’t already told you