Cloud computing. What does it really mean?
The term ‘cloud computing’ is now becoming common everywhere, but there is a lot of scope for confusion about what it really means.
There are numerous resources on the web explaining cloud computing, but who really has the time or inclination to go sifting through volumes of information for a explanation? so we thought we’d do it for you and provide a simple explanation of what the cloud is, how it can be used, the benefits and of course some of the disadvantages.
Cloud computing has nothing to do with clouds.
It can be confusing as to why we even call it this, clouds are clusters of water vapour, what has that got to do with computers. Apparently it is because in network diagrams, the Internet is usually represented as a cloud. So the thought process goes that computers that are located somewhere in this vast cloud of cyberspace are cloud computers.
The cloud can be anywhere.
What cloud computing really is, are computers or applications that are hosted somewhere other than in your office or home. This could be as simple as having an email server located in a datacentre, or a CRM hosted by a vendor in another datacentre.
Where the datacentres are located becomes irrelevant, everything in them is accessed over the Internet. Mission critical websites and applications can even be located in several different datacentres across the world to provide complete redundancy.
Desktops in the cloud
The computer desktop can also be moved to the cloud. This can be an strange concept, as the desktop or laptop are physical objects, how can they be moved to a datacentre. It’s not the physical device that makes up a cloud desktop, just the operating system and the applications that run on it. The desktop can then be accessed through a browser such as IE or Firefox. This can be done from another desktop, laptop, or even from a cut down version of a computer known as a thin client. A thin client doesn’t run Windows or Mac OS, but instead a tiny operating system that runs a web browser only. This is all that is needed to use a complete windows desktop. You could even use a 10 year old computer that is so slow it couldn’t run office 2010, but as all the computing resources to run this is powering the cloud desktop it doesn’t matter.
There are a number of advantages having your desktop in the cloud:
- You can access it from any computer
- There is no upfront costs, cloud desktops are really a utility paid for monthly
- Your data is safe, if your laptop is stolen it won’t contain any of your files email or pictures
- Your computer is protected against hardware failure, well not quite if the computer you use to access it fails, but you can always use another computer, your actual desktop will not be affected
- You never need to upgrade (Time will tell If this is actually true)
- You get enterprise level redundancy
- The cloud desktop can be elastic, if you need more computing power or disk space for a short time, you can get it, and only have to pay for what you use
But there are also some disadvantages
- A lot of the personal computing aspect is taken away, as cloud desktops are usually quite restricted
- You don’t actually own it, so there is always an ongoing cost (although this is quite low)
- You can’t install pirate software (but this is an advantage to the vendors)
- You may not be able to use certain applications if they aren’t available in the cloud
Cloud computing is certainty here, and it’s going to be around until something better comes along. The advantages are many, but it may not be for everyone, at least not yet.