Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What is Cloud Computing For Business?

You’re hearing about “the cloud” just about everywhere these days. Most often, it’s related to one of the huge cloud players like Amazon, Google or Apple. What about every other business from small retailers to medium size manufacturing companies? Is there a cloud that makes sense for them? Just what is a cloud, anyway?

Are you missing out by not being in the cloud?You may be shocked to learn that there’s nothing fundamentally new in the cloud. In fact, you’ve been using clouds your whole life. Don’t think so? Consider this: The oldest cloud in the world is the public telephone system. It’s historically based on huge centralized switching systems providing the “cloud computing.” The thin clients, if you will, are the passive telephone handsets invented by Bell, plus the much newer mobile phones.

The whole idea of a cloud is that that all the brains of the system reside in a large facility run by a specialized service provider. The use of a cloud symbol is meant to imply that everything you need is inside, but you don’t need to see in there or be concerned about what makes it work. That’s the service provider’s job. You are one of many users of the system. It’s a principle called “multi-tenanancy.” Each of the users, or tenants, is isolated from the others and has the sense that they are the only one on the system. In reality, there may be hundreds, thousands or millions of other users accessing the system at the same time.

One nice thing about clouds is that not knowing all the details of what’s going on in the cloud means you don’t have to be responsible for making it work. That’s somebody else’s worry. Think about those old-timey telephone sets. Were you expected to fix them when they didn’t work? Hardly. Back in the day, Ma Bell would rain fire and brimstone upon your head if you took a screwdriver to anything that belonged to them. You didn’t even own the phone, you rented it. The telcos still will come after you if you try messing with their network. Just so you know where the dividing line is, that grey box on the side of the building is where your wiring stops and theirs starts.

Compare this with what we experienced with the advent of personal computers in the late 1970’s. Prior to the PC, nearly all computers were large mainframes housed in their own temperature controlled data centers. You used the system via your own workstation which was nothing more than a video terminal or teletype machine. Like the telephone, these user interfaces were as simple as possible. All the real processing was done in the mainframe. You could even rent time on somebody else’s mainframe by dialing-in on a time sharing account.

When the PC came along, the architecture was modeled on replicating the mainframe computer on a scale designed for a single user. Everybody who used one was expected to become a “sys op” and know the ins and outs of the operating system, hardware and applications. You were now both the computer operator and user. PCs were heavily advertised as being the modern replacement for old-fashioned mainframes and their smaller cousins, the minicomputers.

We’ve lived in this decentralized world for several decades. However, the worm, as they say, has started to turn. The mainframe is rising from the ashes like a Phoenix and is reborn as the cloud. Once again, operating systems, applications and most hardware is being sucked into a centralized data center and we are going back to being computer users rather than computer operators.

So, is everything old new again or is it really different this time? There are a lot of parallels. The old corporate mainframe is the new private cloud. The old time share system is the new public cloud. The old terminals are smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and PCs and laptops “thinned out” to be life support systems for web browsers, the new user interface.

Even the telephone system is in retrograde. The in-house PBX phone system that replaced dozens or hundreds of phones connected to the telephone company, is itself being replaced by dozens or hundreds of IP phones connected by SIP Trunks to Hosted VoIP solutions in the cloud.

Why is this happening? Should we be embracing the new cloud overlords or take our PCs and private data centers underground to assert our independence?

The answer is based in economics. Having your own computer empire gives you ultimate control, but it costs a fortune to buy and maintain. With the advance of technology, you wind up buying all new equipment and software as fast as the old investments are depreciated, maybe faster. Worse, if you guess wrong in your business forecasting, you are stuck with resources you pay for but never use. Or, you find your business tied up in knots with too few resources and a long procurement cycle to expand them. By the time you’ve corrected for the under spending, the business cycle has gone over the top and you are back to being stuck with too many underutilized resources... again.

Lack of scalability in hardware, software and data center personnel to make it all work is a business liability in volatile times. Savvy managers start thinking that it makes more sense to just rent what you need while you need it. If you guess low and run short, just go out and rent more. If you guess high and business collapses, turn those resources back to the provider and rent only what you need right now.

This is the main problem that the cloud is designed to solve. You pay for what you need while you need it and no more. The “what” includes servers that do the processing, disk storage to hold your files, bandwidth to communicate with the outside world, and telephone switching for your voice communications. Cloud services are priced on how many resources of a given kind you use and for how long. Services like telephony are priced per “seat” per month. Servers and storage can be ramped up and down as needed, typically using an online control panel. Seats can also be easily added and subtracted.

Another problem that the cloud solves is how to integrate multiple computers with multiple files. Everybody now has multiple devices, like PCs, laptops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones. Each one has some of your files, just not the one that you need right now. If you store everything it the cloud, you can get to it from any device you happen to be using from wherever you happen to be at the moment. You’ll also have the peace of mind of knowing that the cloud system regularly backs up your files so they won’t vaporize when a hard drive fails. That’s something that we humans are particularly bad at remembering to do, but something that an automated cloud process handles with ease.

Now that you know what the cloud is for business, are you missing out by not making the most use of today’s cloud services? Get features, benefits and pricing for cloud solutions that make the most sense for your business.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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