When we think of cloud computing, the first thing that comes to mind is Amazon Web Services (AWS). Would you be surprised to know that Amazon launched this suite of services nearly a decade ago? Amazon was early in recognizing that it had developed enormous data center resources to power its own ecommerce applications, and that it could generate additional revenue by renting out underutilized resources to other companies. It’s an attractive proposition to companies that haven’t made a similar investment and cringe at the thought of the amount of capital investment involved.
The two most popular AWS services are Amazon EC2 and S3. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) offers scalable virtualized private servers. Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) complements the servers with online storage. These services typify what is known in the cloud industry as IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service. This infrastructure represents the physical servers, disk drives, operating system software, interconnections, power and environmental controls that you would normally install in your own data center facility. Instead of buying, operating and maintaining all of this hardware, you rent it from Amazon or another cloud service provider.
A major difference between cloud solutions and other ways of getting the job done is that the cloud is sold on a pay-as-you-go basis. There is no up-front capital commitment nor a standard monthly rental fee for a particular set of hardware. That differentiates moving to the cloud from simply packing up your equipment and moving it to a colocation center or renting the necessary assets from the colocation provider. The cloud isn’t about physical resources, it’s about virtualization. Mind you, the cloud service provider does, indeed, have massive physical resources in the form of racks and racks of servers and disk drives as far as the eye can see. What they do is divvy up these resources using virtualization software so that you seem to have one or more servers to yourself and all the storage you need.
Virtualization is what makes the cloud so nimble. Instead of having to make a month by month commitment to a physical server, you can deploy virtual servers as fast as you can set them up using a browser-based control panel. If business slumps or you are simply moving into a lower demand time of the year, you can release some of those servers and watch your charges go down. You pay for each server by the hour or number of CPU cycles used. Likewise, you buy storage by the MB or GB without concern for what drive is going to hold your data.
Like infrastructure, software can also be rented using the cloud model. In this case, the service provider has their own private cloud and has virtualized the software packages to support as many or few users as you have available. A very popular SaaS application is Salesforce.com for Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Other SaaS business applications include accounting, collaboration, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resource management (HRM) services in the cloud.
Another function that has been virtualized and moved to the cloud is the PBX telephone system. Instead of investing in an in-house telephone switching system and the trunk lines that connect it to the telephone company, you can pay by the seat for a hosted PBX. This is also known as hosted VoIP, since VoIP technology easily lends itself to a cloud solution. All you keep in-house are SIP telephones that connect to your converged voice and data network. Some hosted VoIP providers can integrate your smartphones into the same virtual PBX as your desk phones to create a completely converged solution.
Are you considering a move to the cloud as a potentially more flexible and less costly approach to your IT and business telephony needs? Get competitive quotes for enterprise cloud solutions to compare with your current business model in order to make an informed decision. Quotations and expert consultation are available without charge for serious business users.