As head of Operations and Technology at my current company, I have personally seen the explosion of the term “Cloud" from every vendor who contacts me. But like any other clever marketing term, you have to look behind the hype to see what exactly is being offered and what value it has to you as a business.
Cloud Computing refers to the hosted offering of infrastructure and development platforms , made possible by the Internet, or “Cloud. " It is not a new concept, as Software as a Service (SaaS) providers like Salesforce, have offered Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software in the cloud for the past decade. But it grew in popularity as virtualization technology improved to the point that vendors could easily spin up, and support virtual servers, at a cost effective model for themselves and their customers.
Cloud Computing can be divided into three major categories being provided by vendors: Infrastructure , Platform and Software. Infrastructure is the provisioning of virtual servers, firewalls, load balancers and network switches. It is in this area that most executives and business stakeholders have taken notice. Because of the delays and costs associated with getting physical or virtual servers setup internally in the organization, the prospect of be able to create a virtual server from a provider in a manner of minutes is incredibly attractive. Add to that the concept of “pay what you use" where you only pay for server processing time, and which allows you to grow and shrink environments at will, and you've gotten senior leadership's attention. We had a development project where the estimated internal infrastructure costs were around $500,000. Instead we chose to use Amazon Cloud at the cost of $4,500 per month.
Platform offerings go further to offer application, database and web tiers on top of the infrastructure. Some platform offerings like Microsoft Azure are proprietary. Others are open platforms that allow you to develop in the language you are comfortable in. Many providers make the offering especially attractive by providing services like high availability, or deployment tools and processes, so you as the customer don't have to worry about having that internal expertise.
Software offerings like Salesforce or Zuora allow you to purchase licenses for total solutions that can be customized for you, and integrated to your environment through a documented API. So you don't as a business have to worry about developing commodity software like CRM or Billing platforms, you can instead focus on developing software around your own intellectual property. We migrated from an internal Siebel implementation to a cloud based Salesforce one three years ago and saw our system availability increase tenfold.
Cloud Computing has certainly sparked the interest of business and technology people alike. But it isn't a magic bullet. Many providers are new to the concept and are still establishing all the costing models, stability and processes needed to be successful. Each provider also has its own constraints that you have to be aware of, such as bandwidth or storage limitations. It is certainly worth it for organizations to evaluate and selectively move components of their environments there. But be cautious before jumping in full tilt.
About Author : C. J. Mackey is a working mother of three, balancing a full time career while taking an active role in her children's lives. She has an advanced degree in engineering and over twenty years making technology decisions for fortune 500 companies. She has always been passionate about writing and started contributing to Yahoo! Voices in December 2010. For more professional information you can visit at http://cjmackeypress.com/