The term ‘cloud’ is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on the cloud drawing that has been used to represent the Internet in diagrams of computer networks for many years.
To put it simply: cloud computing is remote computing over the Internet.
We hear a lot of talk surrounding it as though it were something new to the business world, but most of us are actually engaged in some form of cloud computing right now. We pay our bills remotely, we access our internal servers remotely, we use Google Apps – and the list goes on.
So what does it mean for our business computing? The answer to this question will depend on the circumstances, applications and service required by the particular practice, and on the type of cloud the practice is looking for – private, public or a mixture of both.
Private cloud is the implementation of cloud services on resources that are dedicated to your organisation, whether they exist on- or off-premises. With a private cloud, you get many of the benefits of public cloud computing – including self-service, scalability and elasticity – with the additional control and customisation available through having resources that are dedicated to your business.
Where the operations are off-premises, this is considered to be ‘infrastructure as a service’, which is an alternative to a business owning its own IT infrastructure. It typically involves the business hosting its servers off-site and then loading up all of its own software, generally in the same manner as if the servers were located within the business’ own office environment.
Public cloud (or external cloud) describes cloud computing in the traditional mainstream sense, whereby resources are used over the Internet – from web applications and web services and from off-site third-party providers – and these resources are shared with other users.
Public cloud providers host many businesses on a pool of hardware, sharing the cost of servers, electricity, data links, back-up systems, IT staff and even real estate. Often we don’t know where the data is stored – whether it is offshore or within Australia. Public clouds include hosted email, such as Gmail and Hotmail, and hosted business software, such as salesforce.com.
This shared storage and the associated services fall under the concept of ‘utility computing’, which is where you pay a monthly fee for the space or systems you are using (this is similar to traditional public utilities, such as electricity and water).
As part of the utility computing model, businesses are also able to rent software applications. This ‘software as a service’ model allows businesses to utilise software as part of the public cloud, enabling them to use the software for a monthly fee per user, or sometimes for an amount used. The software is typically made available over the Internet. A number of years ago this was referred to as ‘ASP’ (application service provider), but is now more commonly referred to ‘SaaS’ (software as a service).
Many organisations are adopting a hybrid cloud solution by having a combination of public and private cloud services. Hybrid clouds are the most popular model in Australia, having been adopted by 22% of total enterprises and more than 50% of current cloud users. This compares to 18% of organisations who are using public clouds. Researchers Frost & Sullivan expect hybrid clouds to remain the dominant model in the near future due to the flexibility they offer in terms of cost, security, reliability and service level agreements.
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