Cloud computing originally meant accessing a pool of computers to accomplish a task that was too big for the resources you could afford to own. You may have contributed some unused computing power to the SETI@Home program to help search for ET. It’s still going, by the way, after almost 12 years of combing through the output of radio telescope signals. The genius behind this project is to link thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of idle personal computers through broadband Internet connections. Each PC has a small but significant amount of unused processing power. By divvying up a large computing task into bite (byte?) size pieces and collecting the results, all those computers can be linked to create one enormous virtual supercomputer.
The idea of calling remotely located distributed resources a “cloud” goes back to the public telephone network and later to the Internet. Engineers would draw a picture of a cumulus cloud to represent a network who’s complexity was far more than needed to be diagramed every time you wanted to use it. Somewhere out in the misty core of that cloud were all the resources required. You only needed to understand it abstractly, the way most users don’t need to understand the detailed workings of their PC to be able to use it effectively.
If we had infinite budgets, there wouldn’t be much use for cloud computing. Every company would simply buy all the computers, software, storage, data center facilities and staffing they needed. One problem is that much of the time, especially on second and third shifts, most of capacity you pay for sits idle. Even during business hours, you need enough resources to handle peak loads to maintain employee productivity and customer satisfaction. That means your average usage is well below the maximum capacity of your systems most of the day.
Few companies have infinite budgets and today’s financial environment makes it difficult to get enough capital for all the computing capacity they would like. Even the well-heeled want to hedge their bets by just using what they need as they need it, without long term commitments. The fuzzier the future looks, the more attractive pay-as-you-go looks.
That’s the impetus behind today’s rush to all things in the cloud. Yes, you can buy processing by the minute if all you need is more computing capacity. But the cloud computing definition has expanded to include all sorts of resources including web servers, online disk storage, backup and recovery storage, standard software packages, development platforms, and even PBX telephone systems. The hosted telephone services are known specifically as cloud communications services.
What’s important from a business aspect is that you rent rather than buy these services. They are available on a per minute, per seat or per feature basis. You use what you need without regard to what other customers of the service may be doing. The cloud computing provider has the responsibility to have enough capacity on-hand to meet everyone’s needs and to keep everything up to date and running smoothly.
Does the cloud computing business model sound like an attractive option for your business? If so, or if you would simply like to investigate the options, check out features and pricing for cloud computing services. One or more of these services may well be more cost effective that what you are doing now.