If you keep an ear to the tech buzz, you have undoubtedly heard the term “cloud computing” associated with a number of various services. Many businesses are trying to decide if moving their applications or data into the “cloud” is a good idea. Some of those businesses may not even fully understand what the cloud is. But what is undeniable is that some of the businesses that have tried it reported financial gain as a result of it, and that has naturally ignited the curiosity of others.
According to the encylopedia at pcmag.com, cloud computing is “Using the Web server facilities of a third party provider on the Internet (the “cloud”) to store, deploy and run applications.”
The cloud hosting service can either provide only the infrastructure (operating system, database, etc.), or provide software as a service (SaaS), which actually includes the software applications themselves.
One of the major benefits of cloud computing is that the business or organization does not have to own the necessary hardware, software, or data center to host whatever components of their systems they keep in the cloud.
A possible disadvantage of cloud computing is that the business must depend on the reliability of the cloud hosting service. That dependence includes the expectation of uptime, backups, and redundancy, but it also includes the expectation that the cloud host will protect privacy and not use hosted data for their own commercial gains without permission.
Many individuals use cloud computing without even realizing it. Every time you check your Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail account, you are using a cloud service. At one time, few would trust a third party to store all of their emails, but now, consumer use of such services is widespread. Other web applications, such as online word processors, are also forms of cloud computing. While you may only use them on an individual basis, some businesses have adopted them as their primary solutions for office and productivity applications.
Companies like Google and IBM provide cloud applications to their business customers, allowing them to use their own domains and web presence to make the applications appear as if they are part of their websites.
If you already have a large web presence, the web applications themselves may not be what you need hosted off site. With most websites, content is king. It is the content that makes money, and it is the delivery of that content that can bog down a server with and overload of requests.
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) copies website content (images, videos, etc.) and distributes those copies on diverse servers over a large geographic range. Users close to a server in a particular region will receive the content from that region, rather than directly from the website. All of this occurs seamlessly, without the user knowing that the content is being served from an alternate location.
The intent of a CDN is to decrease site load times for website visitors while also reducing the load on the site’s server. It is particularly useful for sites that distribute a great deal of content. Some examples of CDNs are Amazon CloudFront and Akami.
Another popular form of cloud computing is data storage. Like web applications, many people use online data storage without realizing that it falls in the category of cloud computing. Services like Dropbox, Mozy, and SpiderOak provide online backup, syncing, and remote storage of user data.
Businesses rely on more robust online storage services, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), but the idea is essentially the same. Whether the purpose is for backup, redundancy, or database hosting, the result is that the business can purchase cheap remote storage space and not have to invest in more physical servers, software, and employees to manage them.
Is it Right for You?
The answer to that question is that it depends on who you are and your individual and business needs. There are many scenarios where cloud computing might be ideal. Here are a few examples:
A small business with minimal resources may decide that it requires too many server resources and too much technical expertise to run their own mail servers. A a result, they decide to use cloud hosting for their email applications.
A large company that serves millions of daily website visitors needs to distribute large volumes of images quickly and efficiently. They elect to use a Content Delivery Network.
An SMB (small to medium-sized business) needs an affordable backup solution for their server that doesn’t involve purchasing another expensive server or data storage device. They move their backups to a cloud storage service.
As you can see, individuals as well as small, medium, and large businesses can all benefit from cloud computing, and any of the types mentioned above can easily be applied to any type of business.
Nevertheless, not all businesses will need or want cloud hosting. When a business has their own data center, their own technical support staff, and their own robust infrastructure, it may make more sense to leave things as they are. A small business with not much in the way of data, content, or application needs, may not have a reason to use cloud services at all. Like using any hosting service, you should evaluate your needs, examine the research, and make an informed decision