Up until a few years ago, the cloud was, to quote Wikipedia, “a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body.”
But lately, like so many other words or phrases, the cloud has a completely different meaning to a lot of people. Most of them are not even quite sure what the expression “the cloud” really means. It’s limits are not completely defined. It’s like a big fuzzy thing that just floats around in the room with you, and you can’t quite grasp it.
Some people are referring to the Internet, when they talk about the cloud, some refer to it but don’t really know what it means, others to services on the Internet, and some more accurately refer to it as different computing services delivered to clients as a service, normally through a web portal accessed through a browser or a mobile app. For those of us who like acronyms there are a few for this as well, though not enough to have your colleagues or supervisors bring in a logopaedics specialist for help. Many have heard about Software as a Service (SaaS), but we also have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Data as a Service (DaaS), Monitoring as a Service or really anything – X – as a Service (XaaS).
What does cloud computing mean for the IT department? Does this change to the way IT departments work? Some say yes, some say no. I say both. It all depends on the company’s management. But this is nothing new. Before the phrase “cloud computing” came along, you had another phrase called outsourcing. Recently, though, a new phrase has been introduced: Insourcing. This is obviously the opposite of outsourcing, and has been introduced as an alternative to outsourcing. Supporters of Insourcing claim that it leads to better management control and stimulates job creation at a local level, whereas supporters of the former advocate that it can be used to cut costs.
So, what does Insourcing and outsourcing have to do with the cloud? Well… While some leaders think about “the cloud” being computing as a service, some leaders think about “the cloud” as being synonymous with outsourcing.
Concepts and hypes will come and go, change will always be prevalent, IT departments will grow and shrink, but it always seems to come back to the fact that there needs to be some form of local IT presence in almost every company.
In-sourcing and outsourcing have everything and nothing to do with the cloud. The cloud concept can exist in both in-sourcing and outsourcing scenarios. One also has a term called a “hybrid cloud”, where one has a local/private company cloud for a part of the services while a portion of services are placed with a service provider.
The cloud concept, or cloud computing, whether it be local/private, public or hybrid, focuses more on the ubiquitous availability of high capacity networks and is simply the transformation of computing services into a more agile, cost efficient and streamlined service where it’s possible to commission or decommission resources easier and faster. It’s focusing on keeping the back-end systems more flexible, scalable and allow for more independent changes in hardware provisioning etc.
When it comes to the users, they should still have access from the same interfaces, regardless of the changes in the underlying systems, and they should also be able to access the services from many different types of devices and from many different places – this is typically done, as previously mentioned, with apps or web portals and the data will typically be accessible through the public Internet. This is however not required, if one has internal, private clouds which is often the case in larger companies. Access to the company network (or company cloud, if you will) is given through remote access features like VPN or the more transparent DirectAccess from Microsoft.
You also can have personal cloud services, either at home or on the Internet, which you typically access through many different types of portals, like Google Drive, MS OneDrive, Dropbox, Picasa, Facebook etc. So how is this different from before? It’s not really that different. The way we provision resources from bare metal/hardware is different, but if you think of it, you can just switch the word cloud with net/network, and your back to “the good old days”, but with one difference; The virtualization part. That’s the key factor to cloud computing. Being able to virtualize servers, services, applications, databases, clients, storage, networking, you name it. That’s where the ubiquitous availability, agility, flexibility and fault tolerance that the cloud concept relies on comes from.