Is it merely a name for something we've already done for years? To a degree yes! Many argue its been around since the birth of the Internet itself.
Cloud based computing is the use of software, platforms or infrastructure offered by web based service providers or privately owned to perform tasks on the Internet often performed in house. It is generally linked to virtualized and very scalable installations based on the web offering services such as business collaboration tools.
A Cloud can be either be publicly owned as is the case with Google web tools such as Gmail and Google Docs or it can be privately owned and operated generally by a company.
There are types of services provided by cloud computing.The three types of Cloud based services are:
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service like Amazon Web Services and SliceHost provide virtual server instances based on technologies provided by the Vmware and Xen etc.
- Platform-as-a-service in the cloud is defined as a set of software and product development tools hosted on the provider's infrastructure. These are generally web APIs that utilize web technology to build web based applications. An example of this is GoogleApps.
- Software-as-a-service cloud model leverages the vendor hardware infrastructure and their software product to provide a complete service to and end user such as mail via a web interface. An easy example of this would be Hotmail and Gmail.
Today there are many examples of cloud based services and technologies:
- Storage - Amazon S3, Ubuntu One, Microsoft SkyDrive
- Mapping - Google maps, Yahoo Maps, MapQuest
- Telephony Services (VOIP) - Skype, Razortel
- Business Tools - SugarCRM, Salesforce, Mail, Spam Filters
- Hosting Providers - Slicehost, OpSource, Rackspace Cloud Sites
- Cost - Particularly in the case of Software as a Service (SaaS), costs can be greatly reduced because hardware maintenance, capital outlay etc are removed from the equation
- Reliability - Generally speaking, cloud based technologies utilise the inherent fault tolerance of virtual technologies along with redundant systems within datacenters. The hardware and software used are generally very high end enterprise grade technology able to serve thousands, even millions of requests a day.
- Easily scalable - The use of virtual technology and modern web based APIs makes Cloud computing very scalable.
- Redundancy - Cloud based computing will often incorporate redundant systems within the cloud so end users are oblivious to maintenance and outages of individual machines etc. Many companies often replicate services to the Cloud as well in case of Disaster Recovery they can also switch their systems to the web based systems to continue working.
- Centralisation - Moving datasets to the cloud often centralizes data which was once distributed. Many multinational companies are now realizing the benefits of placing data in the cloud rather than replicating numerous times around the globe to each remote office.
- Security is an issue as often the physical hardware and/or location is owned by a third party.
- Political issues are numerous when it comes to cloud computing. Sensitive national data for instance can't be moved to the cloud especially in the case of services offered outside the Nation's borders.
- Legal issues arise when companies for instance store confidential records on third party systems.
- End users are dependant on the Cloud Computing provider if they aren't administrating the service themselves. This dependance is absolute and is anything were to occur to the cloud based system's operating company/individual the end user may be left without recourse.
Maybe the Cloud is just a good idea we've all had for a long time that has had time to become real.
Either way, if you are aware of the hype its been receiving over the last couple of years you will know, cloud based computing may very well be the way of the future, if not already!