December 01, 2010

Cloud Computing: Flying high

In a series of articles, we will take a look at the evolution of cloud computing, including its history, technical requirements and challenges. In my own region, we have seen a huge uptick in use, with various requests for assistance in building out cloud infrastructures.
The adoption of cloud computing is one of the fastest growing trends in business today. Often described as “Internet-based computing,” “the “cloud” is an appropriate metaphor for the Internet. It is a simple concept whereby shared resources, software and applications are consumed by organisations on-demand from a cloud-based service provider, much as they would consume water or electricity supplied by a public utility company. For users, a key benefit of cloud computing is the elimination of the need for any form of ownership or control over the technology infrastructures that support the applications they use.
Excellent examples of the effective use of cloud computing come from companies such as Salesforce.com which offer their applications to multiple customers in hosted models as a pay-as-you-go service via the cloud. Users are able to do away with upfront infrastructure costs and the complexity of traditional software. Most importantly, they’re able to see benefits and positive results almost immediately.
Apart from the sophistication of the Internet, cloud computing demands the consort of two symbiotic technologies in order to function – Web 2.0 and Server Virtualisation. It was the development of these technologies that heralded the arrival of cloud computing and gave it legitimacy only recently.
Web 2.0 tools and technologies opened the door for the widespread adoption of cloud computing because they enabled web bloggers and social networkers to interact with visitors to their sites. In this way, Web 2.0 spawned the idea of collaboration, which in turn fuelled the arrival of the tidal wave of social networking sites – Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others – which are now seen as the delivery services of cloud computing solutions which are increasingly targeted at the business community. These sites are characterised by their ability to allow owners and visitors to “drag-and-drop” content from one application to another and make extensive use of embedded video content.
Without the advent of server virtualisation cloud computing would not have been able to gain the foothold it has. Early adopters of server virtualisation focused on server consolidation and benefitted from the cost-savings of minimising data centre resources and increased flexibility. However, cloud computing takes virtualisation to the next level by allowing server capacity to scale up and down dynamically and immediately on demand.
Essentially, the value proposition promised by cloud computing is similar to that of virtualisation: a means to reduce expenses and improved agility to meet changing and challenging business needs. Enabled by Web 2.0 and emboldened by virtualisation technologies, cloud computing is integrating with social media in what is seen as an inevitable and compelling alliance. Social networks are today becoming much more than sites for the online gathering of friends. They’re evolving into destinations for idea creation, brainstorming, information dissemination and the practice of e-marketing, e-commerce and CRM on the largest of scales.
It comes as no surprise that companies are demanding an easy and simple way to capture information relevant to their businesses and then leverage this knowledge to improve customer service via social media. Cloud computing is providing an innovative platform for organisations to achieve these goals, at the same time merging their business operations with the interactive on-line world in a groundbreaking paradigm shift.
Looking to the future we can expect the service provider landscape to change, driven by significant increases in the opportunities available to cloud-based companies. This will impact all types of service providers from telcos to ISPs as well as independent online services companies and traditional systems integrators. Cloud computing is flying high. Its time has come. 
What do you think? What has been your experience integrating cloud computing into your IT infrastructure?
About The Contributor:
Martin MayRegional Director, Africa

Martin came to South Africa in 1992, relocated by Cabletron Systems to begin operations in Africa. May has driven Extreme Networks forward in Africa and is a leading advisor in the areas of infrastructure security utilizing technologies such as NAC, IDS/IPS and network-based security.

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