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Cloud Computing 101

"Cloud Computing" - we've probably all heard the term in one context or another, but what is it exactly, why should you care, and how can you cut through the hype?

"Cloud Computing" - we've probably all heard the term in one context or another, but what is it exactly, why should you care, and how can you cut through the hype?

In its simplest form, and paraphrasing NIST, Cloud Computing enables convenient on-demand access to a pool of configurable resources like networks, storage, computers/servers, and applications.

Basically the cloud represents having your data, images, videos, applications, IT systems in one always available always accessible place, which can be expanded or shrunk according to demand, whenever you need it. Connect any device PC, laptop, tablet, mobile to the cloud and all the stuff you need is there ready to be watched, viewed, run etc.

If you are into IT, Cloud Computing replaces the need to buy physical servers and equipment, put them into a rack in a data centre or IT room, power them up, connect them to your network, load the software they need to run and manage them. In the same way that we use the Internet, Cloud Computing is a concept out to change the way we build and consume the data and applications we use every day.

Despite all the recent hype it's not new. The concept of the Cloud has been talked about since the early noughties. The word "cloud" comes from the internet - when you map all the relationships that make up the internet it looks like a cloud of connections. Also, rather than there being one fixed path from A to B there are a variety of different ways to get anywhere. Today "cloud" is the marketing name given to anything that is delivered "as a service".

The promise of Cloud Computing as a way to reduce costs, manage expansion and make the creation of new services easier is very real, but we're still in the early days of adoption. Organisations and governments are still largely digesting what they've heard, sifting through the benefits, and weighing up the "fear, uncertainty and doubt" concerning its impact on businesses and services.

What is true and very real is the impact it's having on how services are being created and how seriously corporate IT is taking it. For those wanting to build the next Facebook it's a no-brainer. Pinterest, the fanatically followed online pin board is the fastest growing site in history, (17m users in just 9 months), and to date it's pure cloud. However, for the corporate IT manager there's the issue of trust to be addressed. The goal is alluring; moving infrastructure into the cloud (which is also the corporate network) should be faster (cloud providers' networks are much bigger than the average corporate data centre or comms room); cheaper, and more convenient (pay for useage). But, can these providers be trusted with my corporate data, moreover with my corporate career? The simplest way to know is test it out in a limited way for yourself.

Adding to the confusion is the assortment of services available. The most commonly talked about is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where business applications are delivered to the user's desktop on demand. At the other end of the cloud is Infrastructure-as-as-Service (IaaS), which enables organisations to purchase processing, operating systems, storage and networking on a utility basis.

It's time we put to bed some of the common myths and misunderstandings around the cloud. It offers something worth having for organisations across the globe so there's really no need to dress it up:

1.Cloud Computing suits all personality types

It meets the needs of people who can't wait, people who need to be able to change plans at a moment's notice, people who can't predict what they'll need later today let alone tomorrow. Why? Because it's easy, quick, avoids complexity, allows for flexible scalability up and down and you only pay for what you use.

2.Cloud Computing boils down to trust and money

Eventually everyone figures out how to trust you for the right money. It's something that has happened to everything else, from the internet and web commerce, to modern communication. Cloud Computing isn't any different.

3.Cloud Computing isn't a fad

Nor is it a rehash of grid computing or an analysts' hype cycle. It's what always happens to any technology. If you strip away the confusion over definition it is the same underlying process we have gone through for everything else that powers the internet and most corporate IT. It replaces the need to build services discretely out of individual servers, apps and storage. It has happened to networking and communications, so it's inevitable that it will happen with computing.

4.Cloud Computing ushers in real change

Cloud Computing is the means by which an organisation's IT can be fundamentally changed for the better, freeing the enterprise from the thankless drudgery of supplying its IT infrastructure. Letting them focus on the fun stuff.

5.Cloud Computing in the future

In the future, the cloud will translate to mass automation, requiring very deep and real networks and massive power and space resources in order to be adequately supported. The path for cloud computing, like all virtualised services, is to become so good you don't know the difference between the old dedicated version and the new cloudy one. Chuck in the fact that you can seriously start to consider real 100% availability for computing services.

Cloud Computing services are still developing and the fog of confusion around it can create hurdles to adoption. The secret to unlocking the cloud is to understand it. Those who have a good grasp of how their cloud is accessed and connected will be at an advantage when it comes to picking a delivery platform that matches their requirements. We're still reeling from the economic crisis and budgets are still stretched, but Cloud Computing can offer a path towards a cost-optimised and performance-enhanced IT world. In short, give it a whirl.

Matthew is speaking at the 4th Annual Cloud Computing World Forum on the 12 June, on whether Cloud Computing always comes with a compromise.

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