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There are many different interpretations of what ‘the Cloud’ is and they are all right and wrong to varying degrees.
As a metaphor for the Internet, the Cloud is a familiar cliché, but when combined with ‘computing’ the meaning gets bigger and fuzzier. Some analysts and vendors define Cloud computing narrowly, as an updated version of utility computing, basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is ‘in the Cloud’, including conventional outsourcing.
Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: A way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities.
Cloud computing is at an early stage, with a motley crew of providers large and small delivering a slew of Cloud-based services, from full-blown applications to storage services to spam filtering. Yes, utility-style infrastructure providers are part of the mix, but so are SaaS (software as a service) providers such as Salesforce.com. Today, for the most part, IT must plug into Cloud-based services individually, but Cloud computing aggregators and integrators are already emerging.
InfoWorld talked to dozens of vendors, analysts, and IT customers to tease out the various components of Cloud computing. Based on those discussions, here is a rough breakdown of what Cloud computing is all about.
This type of Cloud computing delivers a single application through the browser to thousands of customers using a multitenant architecture. On the customer side, it means no upfront investment in servers or software licensing; on the provider side, with just one app to maintain, costs are low compared to conventional hosting. Salesforce.com is by far the best-known example among enterprise applications, but SaaS is also common for HR apps and has even worked its way up the food chain to ERP, with players such as Workday. And who could have predicted the sudden rise of SaaS ‘desktop’ applications, such as Google Apps and Zoho Office?
2. Utility computing?
The idea is not new, but this form of Cloud computing is getting new life from Amazon.com, Sun, IBM, and others who now offer storage and virtual servers that IT can access on demand. Early enterprise adopters mainly use utility computing for supplemental, non-mission-critical needs, but one day, they may replace parts of the datacentre. Other providers offer solutions that help IT create virtual datacentres from commodity servers, such as 3Tera’s AppLogic and Cohesive Flexible Technologies’ Elastic Server on Demand. Liquid Computing’s LiquidQ offers similar capabilities, enabling IT to stitch together memory, I/O, storage, and computational capacity as a virtualised resource pool available over the network.
3. Web services in the Cloud?
Closely related to SaaS, web service providers offer APIs that enable developers to exploit functionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full-blown applications. They range from providers offering discrete business services – such as Strike Iron and Xignite – to the full range of APIs offered by Google Maps, ADP payroll processing, the US Postal Service, Bloomberg, and even conventional credit card processing services.
4. Platform as a service?
Another SaaS variation, this form of Cloud computing delivers development environments as a service. You build your own applications that run on the provider’s infrastructure and are delivered to your users via the Internet from the provider’s servers. Like Legos, these services are constrained by the vendor’s design and capabilities, so you do not get complete freedom, but you do get predictability and pre-integration. Prime examples include: Salesforce.com’s Force.com, Coghead and the new Google App Engine. For extremely lightweight development, Cloud-based mashup platforms abound, such as Yahoo Pipes or Dapper.net.
5. MSP (managed service providers)?
One of the oldest forms of Cloud computing, a managed service is basically an application exposed to IT rather than to end-users, such as a virus scanning service for email or an application monitoring service (which Mercury, among others, provides). Managed security services delivered by SecureWorks, IBM, and Verizon fall into this category, as do such Cloud-based anti-spam services as Postini, recently acquired by Google. Other offerings include desktop management services, such as those offered by CenterBeam or Everdream.
6. Service commerce platforms?
A hybrid of SaaS and MSP, this Cloud computing service offers a service hub that users interact with. They are most common in trading environments, such as expense management systems that allow users to order travel or secretarial services from a common platform that then coordinates the service delivery and pricing within the specifications set by the user. Think of it as an automated service bureau. Well-known examples include Rearden Commerce and Ariba.
7. Internet integration?
The integration of Cloud-based services is in its early days. OpSource, which mainly concerns itself with serving SaaS providers, recently introduced the OpSource Services Bus, which employs in-the-Cloud integration technology from a little startup called Boomi. SaaS provider Workday recently acquired another player in this space, CapeClear, an ESB (enterprise service bus) provider that was edging toward b-to-b integration. Way ahead of its time, Grand Central – which wanted to be a universal ‘bus in the Cloud’ to connect SaaS providers and provide integrated solutions to customers – flamed out in 2005.
Today, with such Cloud-based interconnection seldom in evidence, Cloud computing might be more accurately described as ‘sky computing’, with many isolated clouds of services, which IT customers must plug into individually. On the other hand, as virtualisation and SOA permeate the enterprise, the idea of loosely coupled services running on an agile, scalable infrastructure should eventually make every enterprise a node in the Cloud. It is a long-running trend with a far-out horizon. But among big metatrends, Cloud computing is the hardest one to argue with in the long-term.
Many thanks to our friends at Infoworld.com for the words.
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Nobody thinks it will happen to them
‘As a doctor you think if something serious happens you will feel it. In my case that didn’t apply’
Dr Vladka Vilimkova, from Castleknock, Dublin, managed an extremely busy career as a consultant paediatrician with clinics in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin; Mount Carmel and Roselawn Private Clinics, in addition to her teaching/examiner post at the RCSI. Her days were hectic but she was happy with the variety and responsibility of her workload. In December 2012, out of the blue, she received the difficult news that she had breast cancer. Within a few days she had her first surgery and her demanding work schedule came to a complete standstill.
It was the consequence of the treatments rather than the cancer itself that had the greatest impact on Dr Vilimkova’s future. These essential treatments resulted in a major loss of shoulder/arm mobility and significant pain. Despite these challenges, she decided to look at returning to work in some capacity. Unfortunately, with her mobility limitations it quickly became obvious that working in a normal setting would not be feasible.
Another key issue arose relating to indemnity. Practising in Ireland’s litigious environment would make her more vulnerable; if there was even a slight question over her arm/shoulder mobility, pain level or medication she would be a much greater target. “Patients expect 100 per cent – there cannot be a shred of doubt. If parents see you with any weakness they will think ‘what if?’.”
For Dr Vilimkova, the financial implications did not cause additional stress due to the decision she had taken two years prior to arrange income protection cover provided by Omega Financial Management. This was a ‘big relief’, particularly when she discovered that she would not be entitled to State illness benefits. The Department of Social Protection had informed her that the self-employed are not covered in the same way as employed workers.
Dr Vilimkova’s income protection payments provided her with a level of financial independence, which she describes as paramount to her state of mind. For someone who is greatly responsible in their professional and personal life, seeing weekly payments coming into her bank account helping to balance all of the costs going out reduces the stress of a highly challenging situation.
For now, Dr Vilimkova’s condition has ruled out a return to work and Omega Financial has confirmed that she will be covered as long as she needs to be. She advises her colleagues, young and old, to think about their situation and what would happen if very suddenly, they couldn’t work anymore, for the short-, medium- or long-term: “Whether it’s your car, mortgage, supporting your family, practice, and employees, we all have responsibilities to others. As a doctor and a responsible person, you should be covered.”
Omega Financial Management is the sole provider of DG Mutual products in Ireland, including Day One Income Protection.