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Is your head in the clouds?

Cloud: It's a term that is being thrown around like three-month T-bills...a lot for youBlog non-financial folks.  If you didn't know, there are some cloud-focused data centers being built here in Iowa by Google and Microsoft, so Iowa is becoming more and more of a "cloud" state.  So what is "cloud"?  John Foley of InfoWeek had a great article back in September on defining this phenomenon.  Here are the seven characteristics that really define it for me:

  • Off-site. A basic principle of cloud computing is that you're accessing IT resources that are in a data center that's not your own. That means you don't buy the servers and storage, someone else does. So-called private clouds are the exception, but forget them for this discussion.
  • Virtual. IT resources in the cloud can be assembled with drag-and-drop ease. Employing virtualization, cloud service providers let you assemble software stacks of databases, Web servers, operating systems, storage and networking, then manage them as virtual servers.
  • On demand. In the cloud, you can add and subtract resources, including the number and type of processors, amount of memory, network bandwidth, gigabytes of storage, and 32-bit or 64-bit architectures. You can dial up when you need more, and dial down when you need less.
  • Subscription style. These tend to be month-to-month deals, often payable by credit card, rather than annual contacts. Amazon charges in intervals of ten cents per hour for EC2.
  • Shared. For economies of scale (that's what cloud computing is all about), many service providers use a multi-tenant architecture to squeeze workloads from multiple customers onto the same physical machines. It's just one of the things that distinguishes cloud computing from outsourcing and from hosted data centers.
  • Simple. Many of the cloud services providers -- whether they specialize in application hosting, storage or compute cycles -- let you sign up and configure resources in a few minutes, using an interface that you don't have to be a system administrator to understand.
  • Web based. Others might make this characteristic No. 1, but I put it last to make the point that there's more to cloud computing than the Web. That said, it does involve browser access to hosted data and resources.

How are you looking at cloud computing?  Is this something that your company is investigating, implementing, will never even come close to attempting?

One way that I see companies moving into this computing model is Disaster Recovery (DR).  Here is where you can completely automate site failover by leveraging VMWare and SAN replication.  The technical complexity and overhead have always made DR solutions out of reach for most companies, until now.  Here you can have a complete DR solution, but your CapEx cost for hardware/software is eliminated and now a much smaller monthly OpEx is in its place. 

I've learned that there is a company that is putting this together here in Des Moines and another that is working closely with them to help customers architect solutions into that cloud infrastructure.  I'll be posting more soon about this.

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