It is hard to find a vendor today who doesn't claim to have a cloud solution. So how do you separate marketing hype from reality, and when does it matter to your organization if it has a cloud?
What is a cloud?
Definitions vary, but let's take this to start with:
Application Services which provide for Distributed Access, Distributed Processing and Redundancy in case of failure of an access point or a processing node.
In practical terms, you need a seamless web of ways to access and work with your data. If one communication channel goes down, an alternate route is available. Data is mirrored, so that if a processing server goes down, a backup server has the most current information and automatically assumes the processing without the need to log out and log in, recover or redo work that has already been done.
A reliable cloud is a complicated and expensive proposition to set up and maintain. In the world of videoconferencing and collaboration, the challenge is even greater since the interactions are real-time, and even the slightest break in the communications stream will create a distraction for the user.
Other "Cloud-like" solutions
- Software as a Service (SaaS)/Platform as a Service (PaaS) -- a software or service provider develops and maintains a cloud and makes services available to clients individually or on a shared basis
- Virtualization of servers -- one physical server with multiple virtual instances running, or clustering of multiple physical servers to create one virtual server to provide redundancy and failover capability
- Virtualization of desktops -- reversing the client-server model so that most processing happens on the server and the clients connect to the data/applications running on the server
- Any architecture where the user thinks of the applications they use as being "out on the internet somewhere" rather than on their local machine
Why does this matter ?
In principle, using clouds is a great idea: it can reduce capital expenditure and management of IT infrastructure, gain efficiencies of scale and allows organizations to focus on "what they do" rather than managing technology to support what they do. But giving up control of the resources that support your business is a scary proposition, made all the scarier by stories of service outages (like the recent Microsoft and Google Outages described in this ZDNet article), or data breaches (even from Sony Playstation accounts!) that are beyond your control.
What to do
- Start by thinking through what your organization needs.
- From there, move to how to most effectively implement it
- Find the right partner to help
The devil is in the details, but too many organizations go from one "latest and greatest" concept to another without realizing tangible benefits from their investments. The thinking and planning part of this process is critical. When you know what you are looking for, it is much easier to find it.
What cloud solutions are you considering/using and why? What have the biggest challenges been?