What is Cloud Computing Technology Used For | ClipTraining Blog

Recently a colleague made reference to a private cloud, which frankly stopped me in my tracks because in my mind I kept thinking “isn’t a private cloud just an internal, company owned and run network?”  And that seemed to be somewhat of a paradox because isn’t the ‘cloud’ simply a term used as a metaphor for the Internet?  A marketing term to describe hosted services, infrastructure and software?  I mean, if cloud computing implies that the actual processing and data is “in the cloud” than how does a private cloud, as a term, even apply?

I wanted to get the bottom of this and explain once and for all what cloud computing is (beyond the hype and marketing lingo).  That was difficult to do because even in the eyes of leading tech CEO’s, the term cloud has been termed nothing more than a “marketing hype campaign” where companies stick a “cloud” somewhere in their marketing brochure and they are good to go.  Does the term have any merit from a technical perspective?  Or is it a method to simply drive businesses toward larger company’s private or proprietary networks to capture your business.  What IS cloud computing anyway?

I can remember my first online email account through Yahoo.  I still have it actually.  Web-based email is an easy example of cloud computing for individuals.  Your email, if you have one of these accounts through Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail and so on, is maintained on a server somewhere (the location is not your concern) and is backed up (how is not your concern) and safe (again, not your concern).  Your email is simply “in the cloud” so to speak.  Even if you use Outlook or some other application to reach up and grab that email and bring it down to your local desktop, you still have that online mailbox in a cloud.  Notice I say in “a” cloud as opposed to in “the” cloud.

But what if your company hosts your email and you access it through the Internet?  That’s slightly different but not from the perspective of an individual user.  Unless you are an IT admin you still don’t know where that server is, how it is backed up and kept safe and you aren’t required to care about that.  The only difference is that you assume (and you might be wrong) that it is on-premises somewhere at your company and that your IT folks are taking care of it, which may not be the case if they put their corporate mail ‘in the cloud’ through hosted servers or services that are available everywhere these days.

From the view of the user, the cloud is similar to other services they have but don’t understand or need to understand.  Electricity comes into their home but they don’t have to worry about how it works or where it comes from.  But you can see how an IT admin has a different view of the concept of the cloud, especially if they have to assist in making the decision to move infrastructure, services, or an entire platform to the cloud.  What makes the ‘cloud’, as a term, more than hype?  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) gives an interesting definition of the term (found on Wikipedia) “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”.

Now that definition helps to round out some of the bonus features that are supposed to come with a cloud-based solution.  When using any form of cloud computing there is a dynamic scalability implied, which typically means virtualization is being utilized somewhere in the mix.  Now, this is important because the sales and marketing folks only look at the cloud in terms of how they can sell it, but an IT person needs to look at it from the perspective of how they can benefit their organization through the purchase of it.

After considering all of the information on cloud computing it’s clear that the term is actually a good one so long as we change our view of the Internet in the metaphor.  The Internet is not the cloud or a cloud.  It’s a means for supporting the clouds that exist.  In effect the Internet is the sky, that fabric which holds the clouds.  But the clouds themselves are ultimately someone’s networks that they have made available for your use.  So, if you have a web site hosted through GoDaddy or some other company, yes you are making use of their network.  If you utilize a BPOS or Office 365 solution for your corporate email, collaboration and communication needs, you are making use of Microsoft’s network that they have provided online as their cloud.  Those are all examples of public or external clouds.  These are the traditional examples used in the media that basically indicate, as mentioned above, a dynamically scalable solution is offered and provided by a third-party with servers that are not on-premises and are charged for usually on a per-user basis or a per-GB basis, depending on the pricing plan.

There are other types of deployment models for cloud computing.  They have a hybrid model where parts of your solution are on-premises whereas others are in the cloud.  So, perhaps you maintain your own servers and identity management (Active Directory) solution but your Exchange and SharePoint are in the cloud, that is an example of a hybrid cloud.  There are terms like community cloud and combined cloud and all sorts or variations of these terms.

But that brings me back to the concept of a ‘private’ cloud.  Is that even a real term?  Doesn’t there seem like, based on all that we’ve discussed above, there is something not quite right about it.  Well, it’s true if your company is hosting its own servers and you have to pay for them, configure them, scale them yourself and manage them (meaning backup, secure and so forth) then what you have got yourself there is a genuine twentieth century doo-hickey called a “Network” son!!!  Get a good look at it. Take a picture because they won’t be around for much longer.  But where that term ‘cloud’ might be applied, and I’m not arguing it on these grounds, is if you do in fact use some form of virtualization that provides some of the benefits that we see on public cloud based networks, this term may have merit.  If you have shared hardware expenses (a public cloud benefit) and an easy way to recover from failures and disaster (another public cloud benefit) and the ability to scale up or down at will (also a public cloud feature with a cost attached of course) then you just might have the right to call your network a private cloud.  Maybe.  I say ‘maybe’ because even if you make a monster-sized private cloud that you’re organization utilizes, you are still simply creating a network that uses virtualization and provides services, storage and so forth to your own people.  It’s like saying, because you have a huge generator, that you are now a mini electric company.

Think this is all crazy?  Wait until the future of the cloud comes.  Something currently called the intercloud, or a global “cloud of clouds” that is interconnected is in the dreamworks.  As for me, I’m ok with all the changes in naming, terminology and features up in the sky… but I like to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

Posted on April 29, 2011 at 8:00 am

Categories: Follow-up Friday, The Cloud

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