Cloud Computing – What does it mean?

“The Cloud” is the term that has been thrown around a lot in the past few years. Some people miss understand what this means, and at times it is just a catch phrase that some IT professionals use because it just looks good on paper. I hope to clarify the general idea here in simple terms, and give a few good examples of cloud computing you may have been using all along.

For the most part Cloud computing is a hosted service of some sorts, or even software as a service. Basically you don’t have to manage the hardware that is hosting your application. Sometimes this means huge savings in administration costs. This sounds too easy right, you probably thought there was more magic to it and that there was more too this didn’t you. Well for the average user, it is business as usual, but in the back end it usually involves much more to support.

Goals of Cloud Computing:
* Reliability
* Simple and Automated
* Access from anywhere
* Ability to collaborate
* Not hardware dependent (Meaning that it probably runs on a hypervisor)

To achieve these goals the next cache phrase that is used is “Virtualization”, Virtual networks, virtual storage, virtual servers, even virtual switches. Virtual IT technology has enabled us to do more by adding layers called hypervizors between our applications and servers and the hardware, and allow us to use hardware more efficiently. Instead of one to one ratio we now run 4,5,6, and even 10 or more servers on a single physical host, which are usually clustered together with several other hosts that allow migration of applications between hosts to balance the load.

Vendors such as NetApp and EMC have done what VMware did with virtual servers and applied it to centralized storage. This allows us to do things with our data and storage growth we would have never thought possible a few years ago.

These technologies can be used to create both public and private clouds, and many times it is a mixture.

Ok, now you’re asking “What do I use today that is probably in the cloud?”

The list is huge here because technically speaking the cloud is really not a new thing, but rather a new way of thinking about internet technology. For example Google and Amazon are a couple of the most well known providers of public cloud interfaces for many services such as e-commerce, e-mail, office software, file storage, Voice over IP, spam filtering, anti-virus, web content filtering, accounting software, project management, Social Networking, and on and on.

So what can be on the cloud you ask? Well pretty much everything, and even Microsoft is trying to get in on the action with enterprise services such as Office 365.

How secure is the cloud? Well that depends, and I could go on and on about network security. My suggestion is to do your homework and read the privacy policies for where your service is hosted. Make sure that compliance needs are met and that vendors are held accountable for their security measures should they fail. Pretty much all the same rules apply as always.

In short Clouds are nothing new, other then the technologies that support them on the back end. They allow you to have access from anywhere (Mac, PC, smartphone).


About Paul Cardelli, CISSP
Cyber Security Analyst, and computer guru

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