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Some thoughts on Cloud Computing

Some thoughts on Cloud ComputingEvery few years, the Information Technology industry is subject to a bombardment on the latest and greatest opportunity. Do you remember when every self-respecting Database Administrator just had to have a Data Dictionary? And then …

Well, we have survived most of them. Now this is the year of Cloud Computing – but Cloud Computing is not just a passing fad.

Cloud computing is evolving at a dizzy speed. Companies of all sizes are venturing into this new technology. Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, IBM – to name just a few.

To tap the outsourcing market, vendors are adding a huge amount of resources to their technical teams – to improve all aspects of the Cloud based services on offer.

What is Cloud Computing all about?

Cloud Computing is the use of hardware and software delivered as a service over the Internet. It allows companies to store files and documents – then maintain and access the files for any computer connected to the internet.

There are many new acronyms to learn:

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a service (PaaS)
  • Software as a service (SaaS) - like Office 365
  • Storage as a service (STaaS)
  • Security as a service (SECaaS)
  • Data as a service (DaaS)
  • Test environment as a service (TEaaS)
  • Desktop as a service (DaaS)
  • API as a service (APIaaS)

A company rents application software and databases from the provider. The provider manages the Cloud services and all the technical support, software, databases and platforms that are required.

The charge for access to the Cloud depends on the services consumed, the compute time, the amount of storage, and the bandwidth used.

The Benefits of Cloud Computing

Companies will gain these benefits from the cloud:

  • No software needs to be installed, saving time and money
  • Users can run applications from any device with an Internet connection
  • Companies will only pay for what they use
  • Less will be spent on deployment and maintenance
  • The Cloud service providers will supply all the Backup and Recovery facilities.
  • The small business can divest itself of the problems and cost of running a data centre.
  • Software updating costs and license fees for multiple users will be reduced.
  • There will never be a worry about running out of disk space.

Cloud Computing Disadvantages

Whatever the hype about the benefits of Cloud computing, a Web page using a Browser cannot compare in speed and functionality to a Visual Basic application running on a Desktop PC. Web-based applications do not have the capabilities of the Desktop equivalent.

A high speed connection will be needed to ensure an acceptable response time for downloading files and large documents. Even with a fast connection, web-based applications will be slower than a program running on a Desktop PC.

Cloud Computing: Security is not assured

I would not trust the security of sensitive data that is accessible from the Web. I would not trust the assurances of any vendor proclaiming absolute security. Even with the most sophisticated security protection possible, there still can be no guarantee.

Storing sensitive information in the cloud is inherently a risky proposition. There will always be external hack attempts. Nothing on the Internet is completely secure. We only have to look at the hacking record of the Pentagon. Even with their massive resources, they cannot prevent unauthorised access. And these are only the problems that are known and reported.

A lack of security could potentially put your company's future at risk. You may be convinced by the vendor's guarantees, but will your auditor also be so convinced? Only non essential data should be put on the Cloud. Otherwise a company risks a qualified set of accounts.

The leaked data also included Apple iCloud usernames and authentication tokens of mobile devices running the spyware as well as what appear to be iCloud backup files.

Cloud Computing: Reliability is not assured

There will be times of outages and technical problems when your company will lose its ability to do any work. If the downtime is just a slight inconvenience, then a company will be able to live with the infrequent outages. If the downtime is extensive, this could affect large sectors of industry.

A cooling problem in Microsoft's South Central U.S. data center seems to be causing issues for a number of Microsoft Cloud services users in the U.S. and beyond.

Cloud Computing: Other Issues to consider

  • Problem resolution may take time when dealing with a large offshore vendor.
  • The cloud computing vendor may lock a company into proprietary software.
  • Cost savings may only occur in the short run. A well-established data centre will be more cost effective.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that allows developers to use any language to build and manage applications. Microsoft Azure is aimed at large corporations that do not want the expense and bother of maintaining a data centre, upgrades, security, backup, etc, etc.

The services include:

  • App Service – create mobile apps for any platform or device
  • Azure Backup – manage cloud backups
  • Azure Batch – run large-scale parallel workloads
  • Azure DNS – host DNS domains
  • Microsoft Azure Key – encrypt capabilities
  • Azure load balancer – distribute traffic
  • Azure Cache – provides fast access to data
  • Remote App – deploy Windows apps to any device
  • Azure Scheduler – allow action at a future date
  • Azure Search – provides search capabilities
  • Site Recovery – provides disaster recovery service
  • Azure SQL Database – create relational database Applications
  • Azure Virtual Machines – create a Windows Server in the cloud
  • Azure Virtual Network – create VPNs that are hosted in the cloud

Amazon AWS

Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominates the public cloud market - due to Amazon's low cost margins and starting long before their competitors.

Besides Microsoft, Amazon has virtually no serious competitor.

The Australian experience with a venture into the Cloud

Whilst the Cloud has provided opportunities for innovation, for others, the migration has been fraught with problems. These have been:

  • Lack of fast and stable internet connections – worst in regional and rural areas
  • Drop-outs and disconnects
  • High availability at the cost of low reliability
  • Bill shock – costs underestimated
  • Lack of functionality and flexibility
  • Cost benefits that diminish with scale
  • High cost of data retrieval
  • Voice and video latency issues
  • Poor performance – especially with legacy applications

The problems have forced many a reversal back to the previous architecture – or the selection of a hybrid solution with better architecture.

Low workloads have been generally successful, but high workloads are best kept in-house. Infrastructures are more cost effective in-house. Administration Databases are best run internally.

The capabilities of Office 365 and the Cloud

The full range of Microsoft Office software is available online:

  • View the mail, calendar and contacts on any computer, using Outlook Web App
  • Store files in OneDrive and then access them from any computer, anywhere
  • Share files with colleagues
  • Co-author documents and see all the changes as they happen.
  • Follow people and documents in the news feed
  • Use Office Web Apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) on any computer

Cloud Computing: In Conclusion

Many opportunities exist for running applications over the Internet. The ability to make the application available to almost anyone is appealing. Having the backing of a large vendor company is also attractive.

But critical applications, where a company's viability is at stake, should not be candidates. Heavy data entry and complex applications also should not be considered.