Cloud computing is quickly becoming the next trend in computer technology as a means of and a solution to employing scalability across organizations and their server technology. Its definition is just as nebulous as its name; “the cloud" can be a metaphor for the Internet but when combined with the word “computing", its meaning becomes even more ambiguous. It has sometimes been defined more narrowly as a newer version of utility computing, where basically servers and even desktops are made available over the Internet across organizations. A broader definition can mean any computing device outside of a company's firewall, “in the cloud", so to speak, including standard outsourcing or software as a service, where applications are hosted by vendors as a service to their customers.
For the information technology industry, cloud computing comes into play as a means to increase capacity for an organization or add capabilities as needed without making major investments in new infra-structures, new hardware, training new personnel or buying and licensing new software. The increased capacities are typically derived from third-party providers in organizations’ data centers. These subscription-based or pay-for-use services exist on the Internet in real-time serve to extend an organization's computing capabilities.
Cloud computing is still somewhat in its beginning stages, as only a small minority of providers are making available anything from complete web-based applications to storage services and electronic mail filtering. Predominantly companies connect to these services individually but cloud computing integrators are starting to come to the forefront.
There are several major components that are considered to comprise cloud computing. The first, which is commonly known as “Software as a Service", is an application that is accessed through a desktop browser and resides on a vendor's server. The attractiveness of this component for both the customer -the end-user - and the vendor is that for the end-user, software does not need to be installed on each computer using the service as would be the case, for example, in using Microsoft Office, and the vendor needs to maintain only one application as compared with other types of hosting, where multiple applications and services are provided by a single vendor.
"Web services in the cloud" is related to software as a service in that vendors offer small pieces of code, known as APIs or application programming interfaces that enable software developers to provide smaller applications over the Internet, instead of larger, more complex applications. Rather than a single organization maintaining libraries of APIs for every and any language their develops might use, different vendors can provide a range of APIs for discrete business services to a more complete and complex set, for example, as offered by Google Maps.
"Platform as a service" is a variation of web services in the cloud in that vendors provide comprehensive development environments as a service. Developers create their own complete applications which are then accessed by end-users by means of a browser over the Internet from the vendor's server on which the application was developed. Vendors can sometimes limit the capabilities for develops but the trade-off is predictability and pre-integration of the created applications.
Managed services are solely for the use of information technology departments, as these services are related to such applications as scanning of viruses, electronic mail monitoring, overall application monitoring and desktop management. By accessing these services from perhaps a single vendor for a fee, the investment for information technology departments is reduced by not needing to purchase separate monitoring tools for each desired service.
Given these initial instances of cloud computing, the term might be more effectively termed sky computing with isolated clouds of services which information technology departments still need to access individually. However, given the advances in technology connectivity, the current state of loosely-coupled services running on small, scalable infrastructures should, in the long run, make every organization a “cloud in the sky". It is a trend that will not soon disappear but, rather, expand to meet the growing needs of information technology.
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