Blog & Company News

Jun 30, 2011

Demystifying the Cloud: An Explanation of Cloud Computing for the Nontechnical Business Leader

[caption id="attachment_393" align="alignright" width="350" caption="Microsoft and Cloud Computing"][/caption] I continue to be challenged every day with folks all around me pertaining to this new idea of “Cloud Computing.” Let’s try to demystify the whole thing into a basic concept or two. First, I need to state what “Cloud Computing” is not. Cloud computing is not swirling data in some random place in the world, where its location and how it got there is a mystery. It’s not information stored in some vault somewhere you can't ever see. It’s not the Matrix, from the movie—and you’re not a droid person who is attached to a pod in some tube somewhere, feeding this cloud. We know exactly where the data, databases, applications, and websites are in the cloud. They are right where your IT professional, Google, Amazon, or your hosting provider put it: on a set of computers in a data center. Wait … so the cloud is just a set of computers in a data center? Then what is the difference between that and, well, any other set of computers in a data center? Actually, very little. The key difference between the two is not profound: Cloud computers have a great software toolset that allows us to manage all the servers that are connected together. This toolset lets us plug all the systems together and manage them as a group. On top of that, the intelligence of this cloud-management toolset allows us to move applications and websites around instantly to avoid downtime. Lastly, all the computers can share resources as a group. Processing power and memory are all allocated among the mass and not a single server anymore. So, where is the magic everyone is asking for and how does data float around across the internet in some large-scale mass of computing power? Well, it doesn’t. For the most part, your data and applications will live in one or maybe two locations—and that’s about it. Some of the larger providers like Google and Amazon may not always tell you where your stuff is, but they know exactly where it is, and it’s not spread all over. So why do I need this cloud thing instead of a computer or standalone server? Ah ... the million-dollar question. Let me see if I can make this rational within this mystic realm. First, cloud computing is cheaper. A lot cheaper. I know that probably doesn’t make sense for the simple fact that it’s this large group of machines all plugged in together. It should be more expensive. But the reality is, we can share and manage the resources better with cloud computing, and we can dramatically cut the costs. Next, it’s almost perfect. It stays up at much higher levels than most single servers can ever consider. When one computer goes down, your applications and web sites are shifted to another computer instantly, and no one—not you, not your website or application, not one of your users—ever knows there was an issue. This all probably sounds a bit magical I guess, but it’s absolutely true. Lastly, you can virtually decide if you need more computing power, meaning the system will allow adjustments to how much processing power and memory you need. This is one of the biggest benefits of connecting all these computers together. So, to review: It’s cheaper, it’s always up, and it’s virtually adjustable to my needs. Sounds good, but you might be thinking, “I don’t know what I would use it for.” Here are some ideas. Most small and medium-sized businesses today have a server or two managed by an IT group of some type. They are typically used for logging into the local machines, central data and information repositories, inter-company chat, email software, databases the company uses, contact management tools, etc. The IT teams managing these machines are also typically local companies or direct hires to the small business (and mostly expensive). They are usually not watching the servers 24/7/365, and sometimes they’re not even on site. But this model has worked for many so far, as long as catastrophe hasn't struck. And catastrophe comes in many forms. Floods, Theft, Power Loss, Other Weather, Computer Failure, etc. And during one of these catastrophes, people look at each other and wonder why they did not take better action. What many professional business planners and entrepreneurs are beginning to realize these days is how little help the older-model local IT person really is when catastrophe does strike. So, with the cloud, now there’s a great solution. It makes computing power cheaper than ever before, it’s in a very strong and closely monitored data center (which is also much less penetrable by many elements), and it’s watched 24/7/365. Oh, and did I forget to mention? It’s always up. [see more information about our cloud offering] Here are a few steps to get the ball rolling: 1. Meet with your IT group and see how willing and prepared they are to assist in moving your information into a much safer and, in the long run, cheaper environment. 2. Next, ask them to test out a few areas in an offsite cloud area, and see if it will work for your business. 3. Look very hard at your vulnerabilities, and stop sweeping those concerns under the carpet. Catastrophe can put many businesses out of business forever. This is critical to consider. Considering all this—the benefits and the reasons for using the cloud—what questions or concerns do you have? Here’s your chance to speak with experts. Let us know in the comments below. Bob Cichon is Chief Technology Officer at The Small Business Authority.