MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Demystifying cloud computing

Carrenza's Dan Sutherland tells us all we need to know about the mysterious world of 'the cloud'...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Feeling under pressure to join the cloud computing revolution, but not sure where to start? We asked Dan Sutherland, CEO of specialists Carrenza, to cut through the hype and tell us what a business really needs to know about cloud computing.

1. It’s not particularly mysterious
‘Cloud’ is just a term used to describe a concept. So, think of the cloud in the same way you might a cloud in a diagram – it represents a place which might be very important. But most people don’t need to know what’s inside; only what it does.

2. It refers to two types of system
The term ‘cloud’ is actually used to describe two different types of system. The first refers to cloud-based services, where an application is delivered to multiple users over the Internet – like or Google Apps. The second is cloud computing, where the function of a server is delivered from a pool of resource – aka a Compute Cloud – instead of from a physical server.

3. It has no standard form
There are lots of different types of compute clouds, because the technology hasn’t been standardised yet. Some providers have constructed simple low-cost systems with limited functionality, which might suit certain purposes but wouldn’t suit a corporate IT platform. Others are enterprise-ready, and come with the sort of service-level agreement (SLA) a business-critical system needs. 

4. It’s no different to utility computing
They’re both terms used to describe exactly the same thing: a system for providing computing resource – i.e. processors, memory and storage – as a service, just like a utility delivers electricity or gas. We don’t necessarily need to know how it is done, we just need the service.

5. It can be tailored to your specific business need

Cloud computing can do pretty much whatever you want it to do – but usually more cost-effectively, and with greater reliability. This is because the concept is aligned to meeting the business need it serves, as opposed to the technical way it does this. In other words, a cloud can be tailored to meet whatever a business requires, because resources are being used more efficiently. You also have no need to compromise over budgets or thresholds, as you might do when building a stand-alone system. A good cloud computing provider should be able to match their offering very closely to your needs.

6. It’s just as safe – if not safer
One of the most common misconceptions about cloud computing is that it isn’t secure. The technology itself is mature and as safe as any standalone system. In fact, cloud computing is often more secure, because it’s easier for administrators to manage. This leaves less room for the biggest security threat any system faces – mistakes by the people operating it.

7. It can reduce costs in all sorts of ways

Obviously reducing capex is critical, especially in tough economic times, but there are other less obvious cost-savings. For instance, you can build a platform that will only handle the average load of your systems, as opposed to the peak. For some companies there might not be a huge difference between the two. But for a business with seasonal or event-dependent traffic peaks (think Interflora on Valentine’s Day), the difference can be significant if the site goes down.

8. It doesn’t have to mean service headaches
Giving up the hassle of hardware maintenance cycles and expensive energy bills doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing peace of mind when it comes to uptime. More and more enterprise-level cloud computing solutions are being built with service level agreements as standard – but watch out, because some vendors are still going without. That said, for some jobs you can go without too; remember to tailor your requirements to your needs.

9. It helps your green agenda
One of the biggest pain points for businesses in 2009 has been reducing costs without compromising ongoing green initiatives – from both a CSR and energy bill standpoint. Because it is so much more efficient, cloud computing suits both objectives. As well as helping a business reduce costs, it also helps it reduce its power consumption, since equipment is never lying dormant. When we hosted the Comic Relief website, we reduced the amount of energy used in powering the servers by approximately 40%.

10. It’s the future
Analysts and techies alike are in agreement that most things IT-related will be moved onto the cloud in a few years time. But it’s actually more interesting than that.  As time goes by, IT will increasingly be taken out of the business altogether (it’s like electricity: once upon a time we generated electricity locally and knew we had to fix the generator if the lights went out; now there’s a grid, we have a socket and we don’t really have a clue how electricity gets there). Already today businesses are able to buy IT as a service, like any other utility. In the future that will be the norm – technology fed to the enterprise and the individual when they want it and wherever they need it. Cloud computing and cloud services are just the start!

Dan Sutherland is CEO of cloud computing specialists Carrenza.

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