This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2012 issue of Cloud Computing.
The terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” are everywhere, but unless you’re in the information technology business, you may not be sure what they mean. You should be.
Businesses large and small, in every sector, are moving their operations to the cloud – including your competitors. Let’s start by defining what “cloud” means and the difference between public and private clouds.
Simply put, the cloud refers to highly available, mobile, and on-demand virtualized computing resources. It’s an overarching term used to describe computing systems, data, and infrastructure all running internally on a private cloud, or externally on a public cloud.
Private clouds operate on a company’s internally (owned) server infrastructure, and are virtualized environments built to reduce power consumption, hardware expense, and increase availability. They require highly specialized knowledge within a company’s IT department.
Public clouds are purchased through a cloud provider and can replace or be an extension of a company’s existing IT infrastructure. A public cloud can also add managed services, freeing an IT staff to focus their attention on strategic projects that are core to their company’s business growth.
A company’s IT employees are not the only ones who benefit from cloud computing - the company as a whole can benefit, whether using a private or a public cloud. With a private cloud, a company’s carbon footprint is reduced, physical hardware can be used longer, and typically it’s easier to scale than traditional hardware solutions in private IT environments.
These private clouds usually achieve greater uptime in comparison to physical systems that require their own hardware. Upgrading or replacing hardware does not have to impact the business anymore either. Capacity planning, backups, and storage are the most difficult hurdles for private clouds to overcome these days. Private clouds run well when managed correctly and skillsets are constantly improved upon. The underlying capital investment still exists though and growth always comes to a point where a significant investment is required again.
With a public cloud, IT infrastructure costs become more predictable. In fact, public cloud computing allows a company to increase capacity or add capabilities freely, without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Capital investments in hardware that eventually become obsolete cease to exist. Reliability and uptime improve tremendously, leading to better business efficiencies. Public cloud computing also allows employees to securely access data from anywhere, at anytime. The cloud runs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.
Though there are many advantages of moving to the cloud, many businesses still have questions about safety, security, reliability and accessibility of public clouds. Reputable cloud providers take great pride in providing highly secure and fault-tolerant environments to ensure that proprietary business information is safe.
Cloud providers offer data centers that are specially designed, private environments for public clouds which securely house business data, to which no one else has access. Security at data centers is significantly higher than in most business environments and reputable cloud providers conduct regular audits to maintain a highly secure environment.
Lately, there have been numerous reports of entire corporate servers being stolen, flooded, and compromised in a proprietary business environment. When this happens, statistics have shown that it is extremely difficult for companies to survive after losing their data.
Summary of benefits of public cloud computing:
- Zero capital expense for hardware and software;
- Predictable expense model that grows (scales) with your business;
- More reliable/greater uptime;
- Increased security / additional features not available in house;
- No prior cloud experience needed;
- Allows for a distributed workforce;
- Typically lower cost of network services; and
- Cloud providers can often provide services (extension of your IT department)
Still have reservations? One suggestion is to start with a hybrid model, whereby a company’s older, archived information is stored in the cloud and its most current data is stored on its own private server or servers. Becoming more familiar with the concept via hybrid cloud computing will help build comfort, as well as help define which model may work best for a company.
All in all, the cloud offers greater agility, less frustration, better cash flow and more time to do what you do best – grow your business.
Jim Salviski is the vice president of Data Center Services for EarthLink Cloud. For more information, go to www.earthlinkcloud.com.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi