Wednesday, October 12, 2011

IT Management Gets Cloudy

CIOs and IT managers are slowly realizing the benefits of Cloud Computing but there's still a long ways to go. Product offerings for hosted services have matured and exploded but there are so many options now that it's hard for IT management to keep up.

So, here's a quick guide to the Cloud technologies that are out there.  I've broken it out in to the three major Cloud services areas to help you better understand what's available and how:
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or HaaS (Hardware as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)
Infrastructure as a Service
* In a nutshell: you pay for full access to a server that someone else hosts for a monthly fee.  These services generally include some sort of terminal access to a virtual computer instance that you populate with your own operating system and software license.  Often, you'll access the server through a terminal service client of some sort. *Note: HaaS often is confused with IaaS and generally refers to on site (not Cloud) equipment provided along with support services by a service provider for a monthly fee rather than as an up front capital investment.

* Who needs it: anyone that needs full configuration capability for a server but doesn't want to actually host the server themselves.

* Benefits: host equipment so you don't need to build your own Tier-1 datacenter for access to a highly reliable and secure environment.

* Challenges: even though you have full access to the "box" your applications are deployed on the "box" may actually be a virtual server rather than a full server... limiting the configurations on the actual hosting hardware.  If you're trying to move a locally hosted server to the Cloud the performance may not be the same since your connection now goes over the internet.

* Prominent vendors/examples:, Amazon Web Services, GoGrid.

Platform as a Service
* In a nutshell: highly-reliable hosted operating system software that totally obscures the hardware infrastructure. Services may be accessed through a web browser or application client of some sort.

* Who needs it: application developers that need a platform (.NET for instance) for their applications but do not require complicated customized infrastructure.  Anyone who wants their application to "scale" quickly on a fully virtualized platform without downtime for software and hardware upgrades.

* Benefits: the infrastructure disappears. You get a reliable and scalable service for a monthly fee.

* Challenges: customization of the platform may be restricted to enable broad use by many types of applications. You may not have all the options you would like. Some PaaS services do not provide all the debugging, test and development tools you'll need or may use tools you're unfamiliar with.

* Prominent vendors/examples:Amazon Beanstalk, Google AppEngine, Microsoft Windows Azure, Salesforce

Software as a Service
* In a nutshell: perhaps the first and most recognizable of the cloud services, SaaS obscures the whole back end and simply provides a web-based application generally accessed through a web browser.

* Who needs it: anyone wanting to host a highly reliable web site or service generally accessed through a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox.  Some applications may be quite complex and may even interface with hosted databases and other web services but require no access to the underlying operating system or hardware on their own.

* Benefits: the cheapest and least complex platform and also the easiest to develop for.  Applications can be deployed very quickly.

* Challenges: configuration options are often accessed through a web console and are limited in scope.

* Prominent vendors/examples: (main CRM app), 1&1 Website Hosting, Carbonite Backup.

There's something for everyone in Cloud computing.  With so many options, the question is not whether you need Cloud computing any more, but WHERE you need Cloud computing.  Many companies are taking baby steps in to the technology through obvious Cloud computing targets like hosted e-mail and CRM.  Especially small and medium sized companies that have difficulty investing capital in secure, highly reliable onsite infrastructure will be interested in the opportunities that Cloud computing presents.

Even large enterprises can find Cloud computing synergies.  How powerful would it be to pay a monthly fee for an application you don't need to deploy across hundreds or even thousands of desktops?  Wouldn't it be nice to simply deploy a shortcut to a hosted application instead?  There would be no need for internal development and no need for additional help desk resources.

If you're a CIO or IT manager, do yourself a favor.  Get educated and get moving.  The Cloud is here like it or not.


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