by nick carter
I once read with interest an article about a very large
communications company that is offering a network-based, shared server
environment. Your application is kept on a remote server somewhere on
the network, and you access it from any of your locations that are connected.
It is described as the Swiss Army Knife of networking, basically an erector
set for all of your processing and network needs.
I should mention that this article appeared in the mid 1980s and was about
AT&T’s Net1000 product offering. Net1000 eventually was shut down
at a cost estimated by some to be around a billion dollars. The concept
of “Cloud” computing has been around for quite some time. It was a great
idea, just slightly ahead of its time and the required infrastructure.
Fast-forward to today: I pick up my iPad and go to my Kindle app that
opens to a book I have been reading. As long as all of my devices have
either 3G or Wi-Fi enabled, the iPad notifies me that I am further into
this book on one of my other devices (iPhone or Kindle) and asks if I
would like to go to that location. Not only are all of my books stored
on the Amazon Cloud, but any activity is tracked as well.
• Do I know where that information is stored? No.
• Do I care where that information is stored? No.
• Is this service convenient? You bet (especially since it doesn’t cost
• Do I care if for some reason it doesn’t work perfectly every time? Not
really. This is not exactly mission critical stuff! (So far, it has performed
Evaluating the Cloud
The business considerations for the Cloud are a little bit different.
First of all, this is by no means meant to be an in-depth analysis of
all things Cloud. There are thousands of articles available online. This
is aimed more at the non-technical folks to help as you evaluate your
future IT direction.
Following are a few definitions that will help as you explore the cloud:
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The application provider runs the software
on remote servers. The provider is responsible for the hardware, operating
system, software, back-up, etc. This is typically set up in a secure environment
(co-location facility) that is equipped with the necessary power and security
protections. The provider is responsible for keeping the hardware and
software updated and maintained. Since bandwidth is a major consideration,
having flexibility to expand the size of the data pipe on short notice
Some examples include Gmail/Google Apps and Facebook, ADP and SalesForce.com.
The primary difference between SaaS and the next two is that the end user
is unconcerned with the application stack and operating system, focusing
instead on how well the SaaS offering meets his business needs.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service. The term “Cloud Infrastructure Services”
(IaaS) describes a wide range of Internet-accessible services, from the
level of leased servers in a co-location all the way through multiple
services and platforms aggregated between datacenter regions around the
world. Typically, IaaS entails the server, disk storage, memory, processing
and bandwidth all made available as on-demand resources and encapsulated
into a Virtual Machine (VM) image. The beauty of this approach is that
you can be very nimble in terms of ramping up processor power, expanding
memory, increasing storage and bandwidth for the Internet access.
Examples include Amazon EC2, Rackspace, NaviSite, IBM SmartCloud and AT&T
Platform-as-a-Service—PaaS is positioned as a “middle path” between
IaaS and SaaS. Your team is relieved of the burden of maintaining the
operating system and technology/middleware stack. You have more configuration
and customization options versus straight SaaS, which also means that
you have additional responsibilities when compared with SaaS.
Examples of this emerging area include Google App Engine, Microsoft Windows
Azure, Amazon WebServices and AppHarbor.
Putting it into Practice
Now that you are armed with all the info you need to be a hit at the next
cocktail party, what impact does this have from a business perspective?
The most critical part is the application partner. Any of the above methodologies
are only as good as the solution you are using with them. Does the application
address the needs of my business? Is it able to grow with my business?
What is the vision of the application provider? Is the provider positioning
its solution to be able to take advantage of the many advancements that
will be coming in the Cloud?
Once the application question is satisfied, you will next need to ask:
Do I want to have my business server at my location, or am I comfortable
pushing the responsibility of the control and maintenance of aspects of
my business system outside our walls?
Many still favor being able to see and touch the system that is the heart
of their businesses. The security aspect as well as the physical location
of the data still has a strong psychological pull.
Most of you will agree, though, that the stability, speed and reliability
of the Internet has come a very long way over the past 10 years. This
is the critical link in the chain. You can throw all the money you want
at Cloud services, but without reliable connectivity it doesn’t do a lot
Economics is also key. There is a misconception that the Cloud will not
only be the panacea for all things computer, but is also less expensive.
In reality, over several years, it may actually cost you more in terms
of out-of-pocket dollars. However, the trade-offs in hard dollars saved
on equipment and valuable personnel time can usually make the justification
an easy one.
In conclusion, the application is the key, and unless you are in the software
development business, where you end up in the Cloud is really not that
relevant. The connection criteria for you as an end user will pretty much
be the same. You will be accessing your applications via an address on
the Internet. You just might not know (or care) where the actual address
Nick Carter is president of WoodWare Systems in Memphis, Tenn.
© Copyright 2012 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.