Monday, 14 May 2012

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud Computing is the buzz word doing rounds among IT circles. CIOs/IT Managers look towards the cloud as the answer to today’s growing service delivery demands. It provides automated management processes takes care of core essentials in IT that is efficiency, agility and reduced costs. This is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the internet so it becomes easier for IT organizations to deliver the services needed by business in a given timeframe and at a reasonable cost.  Definitions may vary, to put this in a more user friendly language, cloud computing is a model where all IT resources namely servers, network devices, storage and applications are available to end-users over the internet.  Cloud Computing is classified under two categories, public cloud and private cloud.
A public cloud is where resources, such as storage and applications are made available to users over the internet. The resources are controlled by the third-party and access is normally given as a web service. A private cloud is one in which a company controls the data and resources and access is limited to a set of people. A private cloud is normally hosted inside the firewall of the company or department that provides user access in a secure environment.  A third category called the Hybrid cloud model is also available which is a mix of the above two categories. 
Typically, cloud computing services consist of three basic types namely, 
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas)
IaaS is a model that replicates the functions of an entire datacenter. An organization out sources the equipment used to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers, system software and networking components. The service provider owns the equipment and is responsible for housing, running and maintaining it. Some examples of organizations providing IaaS are Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), IBM, Verizon Business, etc. 
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
PaaS provides virtualized servers on which users can run existing applications or create new applications without worrying about OS, storage, server hardware, load balancing or computing capacity. A developer can create applications on the provider’s platform over the internet.  PaaS providers may use APIs, website portals or gateway software installed on the customer’s computer. GoogleAPP’s is an example of PaaS.  The cloud does not offer standards for interoperability and data portability, developers need to know this. Other popular PaaS providers are Microsoft’s Azure, Salesforce’s 
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
SaaS is mostly known and a common form of cloud computing service. This provides all the functions of running a sophisticated traditional application through a web browser. SaaS removes many hassles like maintaining application servers, storage, application and other common concerns. The end user is free to use the service from anywhere on the internet since the service provider hosts both the application and data. Some examples of SaaS are Google’s Gmail, Google Apps, IM from AOL, Yahoo and VoIP from Skype, etc.
Adopting the Cloud
Creating a cloud environment for an enterprise is a very carefully planned exercise as it requires a broad vision from IT Managers on determining how the enterprise can use it diligently.  IT Managers have to take the role of pioneers who can bring organizations to new levels of performance and efficiency through IT and at the same time focus on improving services, reduced costs and manage the risks involved in this ever connected world.  As cloud computing can handle shift from ‘capacity’ to ‘capability’ on demand, enterprises are adopting the cloud quickly to fulfill their service delivery expectations.  Adopting a cloud requires a plan, a good design, which primarily consists of:
Assessment: The first step would be to assess meticulously and generate a clear set of use cases and requirements. This should be attached with an inventory of required platforms, OS and a wish list of services under different tiers.
Roadmap: It is essential to create a roadmap for achieving success, say two years down the line with clearly defined and attainable quarterly milestones. Also success is ensured by having an integrated vision and buy-in from top management down to all business units across the enterprise.
Integration: A cloud can touch upon many aspects of IT, so establish a standard interface by identifying what services will integrate with the solution. It is important to document the requirements and interactions while establishing the standard interface.
Deployment: Deployments done in a phased manner is recommended starting with services that are mature and slowly branching out to take in other applications.  Building on robust capabilities to begin with will help ensure the infrastructure will sustain. 
Success in cloud computing depends on the maturity and standardization of the existing processes. Standardized processes and services can be automated and moved to the cloud more quickly than processes that are still half-mature or are still in testing stages. Hence, standardization and automation are two main elements that play an important role in achieving success while adopting a cloud, as these transform the enterprise from a custom environment to an environment that has automated delivery of IT services. Further, standardized and automated services provide the benefits of simplified management, accelerated deployments, enhanced efficiencies, and reduced costs since they require less human intervention. 
How Business Value Gets Enhanced?
Basically cloud computing is the evolution of several initiatives that are converged from virtualization, distributed application design grid and enterprise IT management to enable a more friendly and flexible approach for deploying and scaling applications.   Businesses normally look for effective and efficient service delivery, to improve the value of IT in their enterprise and less or no challenges in managing their day-to-day IT setup. Cloud computing can help organizations to do away with many of these hassles in delivering IT services in an amazing way as the cloud provides an dynamic environment in which IT applications and infrastructure, is available 24x7 irrespective of the location. Business value is also enhanced by faster service delivery that results in customer retention, positioning in the market and the leverage to expand business horizontally. Businesses adopting the cloud can ignore the challenge of data growth and scalability and concentrate more on services that provide the most value, without concerns on under utilized IT capacities. 
Cloud computing reduces TCO which drives higher profits and provides the answer to the fundamental question: “How do I deliver more with less resource?” Cloud computing greatly reduces on IT labor costs and promotes effective use of technical staff in the organization.  Adopting a cloud for the enterprise with proper planning, design and automation gives a competitive edge in many ways and some proven benefits are:
Operating cost replaces capital cost of the data center Reduced hardware costs Reduced capacity and storage needsTechnical risks are minimized Productivity increased Better user experience Environment friendly (less space, less power, etc)    
Security is also very important in cloud computing and all issues related to securing an enterprise data center also applies to the cloud.  To consider how a cloud is right for a business enterprise, the first aspect to identify is on how the cloud will fit well into the existing business architecture and business strategy. A successful transformation to a cloud model depends on,
Understanding the business operation and the current situation Identifying opportunities for change by understanding efficiencies, gaps and risks Create a plan for transformation and migration
The reason that many enterprises are thinking of implementing a cloud model is that it reduces time in service delivery and provides an environment of flexibility and agility. Users are happy as they keep getting the services as they wish at their own convenience.  
To Conclude:
Many organizations are moving towards SaaS cloud model and adoption of this type of service has been higher than the other two types viz., IaaS and PaaS.  This is primarily because the SaaS cloud model offers the same benefits of a traditional IT unit in terms of services and solutions for the management.  Further, the SaaS model offers many other advantages by significantly reducing capital expenses perhaps this can be a good enough reason. IT Managers/CIOs have to address many factors and challenges before choosing the right cloud model for their enterprise. This is critical as the chosen cloud model is likely to drive many other decisions in running the enterprise and business, so it is imperative to first answer this important question “Will a cloud model make sense for my business?” The best approach would be to look for solutions in all the cloud models and types and choose the one that provides maximum business value.

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