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Cloud Computing

Date: September 21, 2012 Author: Stephan Buys Category: Cloud Services News Technology Tags: , , , , , , , Comments: 0

NSIS Systems reviews Cloud Computing

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Cloud computing provides computing products from desktop programs to Web applications as a service, accessed over a networked internet connection. In cloud computing, you use exactly the same software you use on your desktop—word processing, spreadsheets, email—but instead of them being installed on your desktop or on your own server, they’re hosted remotely, “in the cloud”.

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“Users share… programs and applications via any Internet-capable device, over any Internet Protocol-based network…”
Users share these programs and applications, and their associated data, via any Internet-capable device over any Internet Protocol-based network including WANs and VPNs as well as a secure connection over the public Internet. For this reason, cloud computing is also known as Internet computing.
The claims and counter claims about cloud computing generate a lot of hype. On the one hand, some claim it’s the future of computing Now (it probably is, but it’s not ready for prime time yet) while others say it’s just hosting with a fancy name (there’s some truth in that, too). So let’s cut through the hype about features and instead look at the benefits—and some of the challenges—a typical small to mid-sized business might encounter with cloud computing.

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Benefits of cloud computing

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Lower cost. Cloud computing is “Pay as you go”. Like a utility, you pay for what you use. No more upfront licensing fees, where everyone has a full suite of office software on their desktops even though they only use a handful of programs.

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One advantage is that capital expenditure (on hardware and software purchases) becomes an operating cost (monthly “rental” fees). Typically, clouds charge pennies per hour for average uses. Some estimates are that the cloud can save up to 30% over internal IT costs over three years. Apart from the obvious benefit to cash flow, operating costs have the advantage of being treated as fully deductible business expenses for tax purposes in the current year (no write-downs over time).

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Another is that fewer in-house IT skills are required for maintenance because all the technology sits on a server in the cloud and is managed for you by the cloud operator.
Shared resources. Cloud computing services can be shared across a large base of users, which permits centralisation of computing infrastructure in one lower cost location rather than on every desktop in every city centre where you have an office. A company with thousands of employees in geographically dispersed locations would benefit from this more than one in which the majority of staff operate from a handful of locations.

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Flexibility. The time required to access—or discard—additional computing resources is reduced from days to minutes. The ability to quickly scale capacity up (at low cost) or down (at no cost) is especially useful for companies with, for example, big data processing or collaborative development projects and who need access to a homogeneous, failure resilient computing and development environment from multiple locations.

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Location and device independence. Users can access the cloud from any location with any browser-based device (PC, tablet, laptop, mobile phone). A company whose employees spend a lot of time on the road or at client sites would find this useful.

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Drawbacks of cloud computing

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Cloud security. Concerns extend beyond hackers and viruses like DuQu and Stuxnet penetrating a cloud (they can penetrate your own network, too). For a mid-sized company, the key security issues are.
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Data stored in the cloud can theoretically be accessed by the cloud provider and others without hacking or viruses. Also, employees within the same company can in theory access shared.
Connection security. Even if the cloud provider’s security is bulletproof, communications between the cloud and the user must be equally secure. Large companies usually devote significant resources to this, but the overhead may simply be too high for a small business.
Connectivity. “Always On” networks (backbone, WANs, WiFi, DSL, cable modems) are not on 100% of the time. Outages occur, interrupting access to the cloud. If you can’t access the cloud for whatever reason (say your own Internet connection is down), you can’t access your applications or data. Solutions for online and local data back-up exist but they are clumsy for non-technical people to implement (remember, you got rid of your IT department when you switched to the cloud), and offline back-ups (copies on your local drive) simply compound the problem of synching data when you next can access the cloud (and defeats the point of the cloud in the first place).
“Soft” costs of the cloud. The cloud may dispense with HW and SW costs but other IT costs will remain, for example, for setting up networks, Internet access, and security.

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Cloud computing providers

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If you want to investigate cloud computing, check out some of the leading providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google App Engine, Windows Azure, and Apple iCloud as well as your own hosting provider. Don’t just go with any hosting company that says it offers cloud computing—they’re probably using one of the above cloud giants anyway.

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Private versus public clouds

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Most of the talk about cloud computing is about public cloud services. However, the real cloud action is in the thousands of private clouds inside the IT departments of large companies and government departments, which maintain the HW and SW themselves and provide a virtualized service access layer to their own employees, partners, vendors and in some cases customers.

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Is cloud computing right for your business?

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For most small to mid-sized businesses, a secure WAN, VPN or extranet, plus some laptop wireless modems for staff on the road, might simulate all the benefits of the cloud without a transition to the unfamiliar. So talk with your hosting provider and your development and IT support partners before plunging into cloud computing.

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