The Blank Stare
When I speak to corporate audiences, I encounter few professionals who understand cloud computing inside and out. They’re called information technology (IT) employees, and at the average company, they only represent a microcosm of the workforce. As for the remaining departments who sit in the meeting, it is fairly typical for me to be met with their blank stares when I delve into topics that address the business they work for shifting its data over to the cloud. Inevitably, someone near the back will timidly raise her hand after a few minutes and ask the question that is on the minds of 80% of the people in the room: “So…what is cloud computing, exactly?”
“I’m glad you asked,” is my standard response before I begin explaining – and, really, I am. For too long, companies have left employees in the dark about where their data goes. That is not helpful to anyone, for a number of reasons. More on those in a moment. For now, let’s just answer the question by addressing what the cloud is.
What is the Cloud?
First, let’s define what it isn’t. For the purposes of computing, the cloud is not a physical place in the sky – nor is cloud computing a singular method or service. Instead, cloud computing is a set of computing concepts, and the cloud is the informal expression we use to describe them. What are those concepts? I call them the “3 I’s of the Cloud.” Every company that is on the cloud receives services based on these three “I” concepts:
Interconnectivity – Many computers (a cloud’s “network”) are connected via the Internet. A cloud host, which is a third party cloud services provider with its own servers, manages the computers belonging to its network members from a remote data center. This data center is what facilitates cloud-based services, such as the offsite backup of data. For companies that use the cloud, backing up data offsite (away from their location) eliminates the worry of losing important company data in the event of a system failure, power outage or weather disaster.
If you have ever heard a television or radio advertisement for a cloud services provider, you know that the #1 selling point these providers emphasize is their ability to offer companies disaster recovery solutions. That isn’t mere hype; disaster recovery is a valuable service that the cloud makes possible.
In any event, the interconnectivity of the network is what keeps cloud services providers on their toes, maintaining the uptime of the network and allowing services like disaster recovery to happen. Because a cloud hosting service provider will work hard to make sure his network doesn’t go down, the interconnectivity of the cloud should be viewed as one of its strongest assets.
Infrastructure – In order to maintain a manageable IT budget, members of the host’s network rely on the cloud to provide the IT infrastructure for their respective companies. Rather than breaking the bank building an onsite data center, those companies can rely on the cloud for the raw computing capacity needed to create, store and share data internally.
On average, the cost of depending on a cloud services provider for infrastructure is 74% less than the cost of developing the infrastructure and operations force in-house.(1) That is one clear cost comparison that makes the cloud worth exploring.
Intangibles – In a word, software. The cloud can be used to deliver one or more software applications for companies to effectively manage their workforces: email, calendars, data and document sharing, spreadsheets, etc. Nearly any IT service a company needs to manage itself can be delivered in the cloud. When a cloud host provides these software-based intangibles, that is defined as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Cloud computing is all about delivering business offerings as a service; software is just one of three.