Demystifying Cloud Computing

Demystifying Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the next big thing. The lowdown on what the confusing buzzword really means.

Cloud: noun 1. a visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere, typically high above the ground.

verb 2. figurative [trans.] make (a matter or mental process) unclear or uncertain; confuse."

This is how the New Oxford American Dictionary defines the term 'cloud'. The first meaning of the term cloud is pretty straightforward. However, when you add 'computing' to it, you get an approximation of the second definition: something unclear and nebulous.

Over time, enterprises have been dealt a number of IT buzzwords that have mostly promised the moon. Some have delivered, others bit the dust. When it comes to offering technology in a pay-as-you-use services model, IT professionals have heard it all from on-demand computing, to software-as-a-service, to utility computing.

The new buzzword, cloud computing, is currently doing rounds of the market and is creating all sorts of new confusions. Some think it is the next big trend in IT. Others feel it is just utility computing silk-wrapped in a newer term.

It isn't only the buzzword that's causing confusion. With few vendors and almost every analyst defining cloud computing differently, the term has taken on an extremely fuzzy aura. To clear the haze and make some sense of the new concept, read on. We'll try to help figure out what cloud computing really means, how disruptive it is, what are its potential advantages and disadvantages and, most importantly, if enterprises are ready for it.

The Story So Far...

In the more traditional information technology setup of an organization, IT shops vehemently believe in the procure-and-provision approach when they have to deploy a new application, infrastructure or service. The problem of IT not being able to keep up with business demands stems from this conventional approach.

More businesses need to react in Internet time and decrease time-to-market if they want to react to changes in the market and stay ahead of their competitors. But today IT is required to fulfill lengthy approval processes to procure infrastructure. And when infrastructure is approved, it still has to be assigned and prepped.

Forrester's principal analyst, James Staten, lays down the three reasons why it is difficult for enterprise IT to respond quickly to the business's dynamic requirements:

  • Capacity planning is too difficult: determining whether a datacenter can accommodate another service, where it should go, and what moves and what provisioning needs to take place to make room for a new service is time consuming. There's also a lack of good tools in this area. This is the main culprit for long deployment queues in most IT shops.

  • Balancing time-to-market against asset utilization is too challenging: between controlling IT spend and being responsive to business, IT is stuck in a catch-22 situation. The old 'just give them a server' doesn't fly anymore.

  • The business wants a quick and dirty way to prototype: the business often comes to IT with requests that don't have budget approval or lack a fully-baked business case, hoping IT can squeeze them in. And IT can't afford to set up and manage an outside-facing play area -- especially with today's security imperatives.

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