Cloud computing is the latest landmark technology sift, similar to the transition from mainframe systems to PC-based client-server systems in the 1980s. Cloud computing represents a more utility-oriented computing platform based on capabilities provided by the Internet, offering ease of use and maintenance. Utilizing a concept similar to plugging an appliance into a power outlet, turning it on, and operating the device, cloud computing is driving the transformation of IT into a utility-based model.
Using the Internet as a backbone, cloud-based systems provide users with access to various applications that are stored on servers in a data center in a remote location. The users in a cloud-based system are unaware of the location of these servers and, as such, are free from the responsibility of managing those computing resources on an ongoing basis. Many managers who have had unpleasant prior experiences in overseeing IT upgrade and maintenance projects will no doubt welcome the opportunity to hand off such non-value-added activities.
Cloud computing offers a range of benefits for organizations, including:
- Elasticity and scalability. The cloud is elastic, meaning that resource allocation can grow larger or smaller, depending on demand. Elasticity enables scalability; the cloud can scale upward during times of peak demand and downward during lighter demand.
- Self-service provisioning. Customers can provision cloud services quickly and easily. You can request specific levels of computing, storage, software, process and more from the service provider.
- Standardized interfaces. Cloud services should have standardized interfaces, including instructions on the way two applications or data sources will communicate with each other.
- Reduced operational costs. Cloud systems have the potential to reduce the total cost of ownership and achieve economies of scale by sharing service delivery costs.
- Billing and service usage metering. You can be billed for resources as you use them, similar to the way you pay for utilities like electric or gas. This pay–as-you-go model means usage is metered, and you pay only for what you consume, as opposed to the often more common practice of paying for a large amount of software up front and subsequently under-utilizing it.
Moving toward a cloud-based environment, however, requires careful planning and analysis. There are several critical factors to keep in mind when considering cloud-based systems:
- Security. The same security principles you have enacted for on-site computing should apply to cloud computing security.
- Identify management. Managing personal identify information so that access to computer resources, applications, data and services is controlled properly is critical.
- Detection and forensics. Separating legitimate from illegitimate activity is important, since there is a higher chance of unauthorized access in the cloud.
- Encryption. Ensure coding is utilized to protect your information assets, since cloud-based systems are shared by a variety of users.
- Manageability. You need a consistent view of both on-premises and cloud-based environments. After all, your organization is one entity so your systems should also be integrated and act as one system.
- Standards. A standard is an agreed-upon approach for doing something. Cloud standards ensure interoperability so you can take tools, applications, virtual images and more, and use them in another cloud environment without having to do any rework.
- Governance and compliance. Governance defines responsibilities for all involved parties as well as the policies and procedures that individuals or groups need to follow. Cloud governance should cover your own infrastructure as well as infrastructure that you don’t completely control.
- Having data in the cloud. Managing data in the cloud requires provisions for data security and privacy, including controls for moving data from point A to point B. It also involves managing data storage and the resources for large-scale data processing.
There is no doubt that cloud-based applications and services should be considered as part of any organization’s IT solution portfolio. However, as with any emerging technology, there are increased risks and complexities involved with its implementation. Organizations that are able to plan and execute a well-thought-out solution, leveraging emerging capabilities such as cloud computing, will be able to reduce operational costs while improving operational capabilities.
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