PC Forecast: Cloudy

As a busy small business owner, you may not have heard yet of “cloud computing” – but it’s the latest hot topic among IT professionals. Among peers, cloud computing was ranked second on the list of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2009. To provide you with a heads up and get the story straight I asked Tim Wessels, a cloud computing consultant, to give a bird’s eye view of what’s up with clouds. Herewith, therefore,
Tim’s take on cloud computing:

How Cloud Computing can help you survive and prosper during the Great Recession

It is tough to navigate in a stormy economy. A lot of companies stick with what’s familiar – they think its safest to make as few changes as possible. But when you are faced with unprecedented economic pressure to cut costs in order to survive, staying the course could be the riskiest decision to make.

Cloud computing is the next big development in Information Technology (IT) and it can save small and medium size businesses a lot of money by helping them to work smarter. So just what is “cloud computing” and why does it matter?

Cloud computing is an evolutionary model for the delivery of IT services that replaces buying, licensing, running and maintaining computing assets on your premises with subscribing to necessary computing services as you need them. These services are delivered by Cloud Service Providers (CSP) over the Internet. Cloud computing services are ideal for managing IT in an economic recession and according to researchers of IT trends, cloud computing is going to be one of the fastest growing IT areas in coming years.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a definition of cloud computing that is comprised of five essential characteristics, three service models and four deployment models.

The five essential characteristics of cloud computing are 1) on-demand self-service where the consumers of cloud services can provision the IT service(s) they need without human interaction. 2) broadband network access for the delivery of services. 3) resource pooling by the CSP to serve multiple consumers using a “multi-tenant” model where physical and virtual resources are dynamically assigned and re-assigned according to consumer demand. 4) rapid elasticity to quickly provision and scale up and scale down the use of services in any quantity over time. 5) measured use of services whereby the resources being used can be monitored, controlled and reported for both the provider (CSP) and consumer of the utilized service.

The three service modes are 1) Software as a Service (SaaS) where the CSP provides applications running on their cloud infrastructure which are accessed by consumers using a Web browser. 2) Platform as a Service (PaaS) where consumers can create their own cloud applications using programming languages and tools provided by the CSP. 3) Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software (operating systems and applications) on virtual machines provided by the CSP in their cloud facility.

The four deployment models are 1) private clouds which are operated solely by one organization for their own use. 2) community clouds which are shared by several organizations to support a specific community’s needs or mission. 3) public clouds which are available to the general public and are operated by CSP organizations selling access to their services. 4) Hybrid clouds which are a combination of two or more clouds that retain their unique characteristics while being technically bound together to support computing workload requirements.

The work done by NIST to define cloud computing is the closest we’ve come to an “official” definition of this rapidly evolving IT services delivery model. The good news is you don’t need to have complete understanding of how cloud computing actually works in order to begin using it, which brings us to the cloud computing business drivers that make it so compelling.

Own Less and Do More

Cloud computing is mostly an operating expense as opposed to a capital expense. This is beneficial in an economy where the availability of credit and borrowing has been greatly reduced for small and medium size businesses. Own less and do more is a good motto to describe this benefit of cloud computing.

Cloud computing reduces the “carbon footprint” of the computer room by providing a utility based computing model. This saves on electricity costs for servers and air-conditioning because the need for on-premises servers is reduced or eliminated. Cloud Service Providers tend to locate their cloud facilities near cheaper sources of electricity and their cloud infrastructure is shared by many thousands of users.

Cloud computing eliminates the expense and downtime typically required to maintain and upgrade premises-based software applications. Cloud Service Providers who offer SaaS applications are responsible for maintaining the software applications and updating them. This means you get to use state-of-the-art software with the latest features without the pain.

Cloud computing helps to create a virtual organization by reducing the necessity to have everyone in the same physical location to do business. Since cloud computing services are delivered over the Internet via broadband connections, management, employees and contractors can be located anywhere. Businesses can thus reduce their real estate costs and energy costs by moving into smaller quarters.

Cloud computing brings agility and quickness to small and medium size businesses who no longer need to take weeks or months to roll out new applications. It eliminates the regrets and sunk investment in long application development cycles that frequently go awry and over budget. In the world of cloud computing you pay for what you use. If you don’t need or want a particular cloud computing service you can stop using it and move on to something better suited to your needs.

Cloud computing is the IT landscape of the 21st century. It is not without its risks and pitfalls, but with proper navigation and guidance every small and medium size business can reduce their IT expenses while they improve the usefulness and effectiveness of their IT services.
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Tim Wessels can be reached in Jaffrey at 978-413-0201 or by email at navigator@oortcloudcomputing.com

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