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A look into the future of cloud computing (Part 1)

Posted: 27 Sep 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cloud computing  Google Chrome  PC revolution 

Web-based applications are a key part of the cloud, but they are not the entire picture. The cloud also includes the use of low-cost raw servers that are available on demand. These servers may be unpatched, unsecured, and unmonitored by IT. IT may not even be aware that the servers are in use as they are typically offsite and configured by the end user. This extends the revolution as end users can now build a server, set up a Web site and go, without any input or control from IT. There isn't even a need for a budget. All that is required is an Amazon account and a valid credit card. This certainly speeds up Web site creation, but it is obviously coming with serious risks.

What drives the Cloud?
Virtualized servers, which provide on-demand computing power in a very low-cost fashion, optimise the modern cloud. When tied to an ever-faster Internet and widely available and always connected Web devices, the cloud will continue to enable end users to create more and more servers and use more cloud-based applications. Each of these components needs to be secured and managed by someone, or at least they should be, and IT is not yet part of the picture.

The cloud is the next natural step for the industry because it enables the end user to simplify the typically complex nature of working with IT. The ability of the cloud to solve the challenge of allowing end users to fully leverage the benefits of technology while lowering costs to the business is a game changer. It is the one that all of IT needs to be aware of in order to not only prosper but to survive. IT staffing will need to grow, but the new opportunities may be at cloud providers and not at end-user companies.

Breaking from IT dependence
The biggest change the cloud provides is that the end user or the consumer can now simply select the type of IT service they want much in the same way you might purchase a book from Amazon.com. Whether it is a wiki, e-mail, or custom program, the end user does not have to worry about involving IT to scope the hardware and maintenance needs, allowing for focus on the business problem being solved.

The innovation of the cloud opens a market where neither the end user nor the business needs to be dependent on a specialised and trained IT department or on a specific vendor. Cloud services are easily outsourced to cloud providers, reducing the business costs associated with maintenance, data centres, servers, compliance, backup and recovery, security, patching, virus protection, configuration management, bandwidth, and on-site support. Instead of a business locally hosting servers in a controlled server room where their capacity is often not fully used, the cloud provider can reduce the total server count and related support costs.

After choosing a cloud provider, the end user no longer has to worry about lining up IT to scope the hardware needs, buy servers, or set up a Web server and database. There is also no need to provide the ongoing maintenance such as patching, security, backup and recovery, and product upgrades that on-site servers require.

The cloud simplifies legacy client/server systems in stable production by consolidating the use of servers not operating to full capacity. It can help internal departments, like Human Resources (HR), and it can roll out software tools (such as employee review software) without the need for internal IT involvement and allow an HR team to own the entire process. The only consideration for the business is to ensure that the selected vendor has valid security processes and to keep an ongoing watch to assure that the security is managed. This makes the cloud as much or more of a revolution than the PC or the Internet, and it is nearly as profound as the computer itself.

Virtualisation as the enabler
Virtualisation provides the foundation for servers-on-demand by implementing an online operating system that is required for all other operating systems to run on the cloud. Virtualisation also enables the cloud to rapidly create server space based on end-user demand. It does this by simply running a new instance of an operating system on an existing server. Virtualisation through the cloud creates a model by which servers become services and the underlying operation system is no longer a factor in how quickly or easily a new server can be provisioned.

Looking at the rapid growth of smart-phones, you see devices where the applications are not tied to the browser but instead are tied to the underlying operating system. Netbooks will run a phone operating system or Windows, and virtualisation is the key to managing all these mobile devices in a practical manner. This would indicate that in the future there will be more operating systems not less, but they will allow the end user to do more, increasing efficiency, productivity, and cost effectiveness via a virtual desktop.

As organisations look to further "green" IT initiatives, another advantage of virtualisation in the cloud is the fact that a virtual server can be running Microsoft, Linux, or other operating systems on the same physical hardware, enabling low utilisation servers to be paired with high utilisation servers, thus providing significant savings in energy costs.

Other benefits to virtualisation in the cloud are the ability to constantly rebalance servers as their usage spikes and drops and to quickly perform disaster recovery by moving images from one data centre to another and quickly restoring the images on new hardware when current hardware fails.

The cloud is designed to provide IT customers with a simple, flexible, and scalable value proposition. Virtualisation provides additional benefits that allow IT organisations to truly leverage the level of optimisation that cloud computing promises.

Services such as e-mail, wikis, Web sites, file storage, antivirus (AV), SharePoint, and so on are now available through user interfaces like Windows, a netbook, or a mobile device. This is accomplished using virtual desktops that further provide operational quality and experience for the end user and the business.

Accelerating devt of apps
Another example of how the cloud creates greater efficiency within a business is a software development group that wants to create a new software application for either internal or external customers. By leveraging a cloud provider, they can have immediate access to a complete server development environment.

With modern cloud database technologies, the data is stored in efficient, redundant locations, all with no need for IT. Servers are tuned and kept up to date by the cloud provider, so no further resources need to be allocated. During the load testing phase, the group can use the cloud to run hundreds of clients, and after the testing is completed, the servers are freed up to be used in other capacities. This model is financially efficient as servers are set up instantly without the need for the business to provide space, cooling, and capital equipment.

As the newly developed software application is rolled out to end users, the cloud provider automatically scales out the back-end databases, Web servers, and reporting and analysis tools based on customer demand. Without access to a cloud-based environment, the development team would have to work with IT to estimate and purchase the equipment needed to scale for demand increases.

In a cloud model, the initial backend can remain small and grow automatically when demand creates additional need. The business spends only on what is needed at any given time and does not have to foot the bill up front for equipment in anticipation of how customer demands will scale.

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