Cloud Computing (Part 1) : Advantages, Types and Challenges

by Jim Berkowitz on November 30, 2009

Here is Part 1 of a 2 part blog series on cloud computing.  The source of the excerpts included in this blog post is a Whitepaper from Sungard Availability Services, Cloud Computing: Resiliency is the Key to Success:

Our 21st century society has become so used to change and new developments that genuinely progressive concepts are initially not recognized by many people. There is then a rush to implementation once the benefits become obvious. Virtualization is a good example of this, with the technology being around for a decade before its benefits really became understood and appreciated.

We are now on the cusp of a significant evolution in information technology, one which has the potential to completely change how organizational IT is provisioned, managed and protected. Welcome to cloud computing.

What is cloud computing?

There is some confusion, even amongst IT professionals, about what cloud computing is, but from SunGard Availability Services’ point of view it is a network which uses virtualization technologies to allow computing applications and data to be flexibly provided from a pool of hardware resources. With cloud computing there is no longer a point-to-point connection between the user and the computing infrastructure. Data and applications are not held on one PC or one server or one network; they are held on a disparate conglomeration of computing resources.

Advantages for businesses include…

Resilience – One big advantage that all types of cloud computing offer is that, by its nature, cloud computing removes single points of failure. The failure of one node of the system has no impact on information availability and does not result in perceivable downtime.

Scaleability – Cloud computing enables organizations to quickly scale their operations. Provisioning of new resources and software applications can be delivered at a pace that does not hold back the rest of the business.

Flexibility and efficiency – Cloud computing allows businesses to expand or contract computing power as required and allows ‘bursts’ of computing power to be utilized on an on-demand basis.

Outsourcing non-core activities – Cloud computing makes outsourcing of non-core activities relatively simple and very controllable. For many basic business applications outsourcing becomes a simple process, with payment only being made for the computing power or data storage that is used, with no hidden extras and management fees.

Types of cloud computing

Whether private or public, cloud computing networks have the following three core components:

1. Infrastructure as a Service – Traditionally in the business environment a user’s day-to-day computing resources are held in one server at one location. The infrastructure is fixed. With cloud computing, the infrastructure is provided to the user in an ‘on-demand manner’, hence the term ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS).

2. Platform as a Service – This component really builds on the previous one but with an additional layer of capability that allows organizations to develop, build, and deploy their own applications to support their own specific business needs.

3. Software as a Service – Software as a Service (SaaS) is where a user no longer owns the software that is utilized but instead uses it when required via cloud computing. The software remains the property of the service provider and the user pays for access either by annual subscription or on a pay-per-usage basis. In this way business applications are no longer a capital expenditure item but instead are an operational expenditure cost.

Challenges to be overcome

With any new technology it is important to consider the additional risks that it may bring as well as the benefits. Where cloud computing is concerned these fall in the following key areas:

Security – Whether organizational data sits in a cloud or in a traditional perimetered system, data will still be vulnerable to hacking and other intrusive attacks.

Internet resilience and bandwidth – The public cloud is delivered via the Internet’s network and therefore is vulnerable should this become unavailable.

Compliance – Many countries’ data protection laws restrict the way in which data can be stored and mandate the way in which it must be protected. Cloud computing usage, especially where it utilizes the public cloud, may place the organization in non-compliance with data protection laws. It is, therefore, important that this is considered both prior to and during cloud computing implementation.

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