In this article, Ravi Venkatesan outlines how cloud computing is changing the computer industry—both hardware and software—in a revolutionary way. Cloud computing has gone from being a significant technology trend to gaining widespread consensus among industry observers that the time is right to deploy
About five years ago, in the October of 2005, Bill Gates wrote to senior executives in Microsoft about an ‘opportunity is to utilise the Internet to make software far more powerful by incorporating a services model which will simplify the work that IT departments and developers have to do while providing new capabilities’. Nobody was using the term “cloud” then, but that’s what Bill was talking about.
The world has come a long way since. In the last year or so, especially, cloud computing has gone from being a significant technology trend to gaining widespread consensus among industry observers that the time is right to deploy
Defining the Cloud
Simply put, currently, almost all computing tasks of a user – from writing letters to keeping accounts – depend entirely on the hardware he is working on and the software he has loaded on it. Logically, the combined power of the hardware and software defines all that a user can do. The basic idea behind cloud computing is to share the power of computers installed in a network: you do not need to own computers, if you can rent power from other computers in a network.
Everyone, it seems, is taking new steps and investing in the cloud these days. As we move to embrace the cloud, there are certain things we need to keep in mind. In order to make the cloud a success, those of us in industry – along with the government – need to pursue new initiatives to protect privacy and promote security
As to the rationale behind the terminology, you will notice that in the early stages of a new technology, industry has the habit of taking everyday terms and using them in a way that most people can’t immediately understand. Perhaps, it should not be surprising that an industry that borrowed from terms as diverse as the mouse, windows, spam, and viruses should now turn to the weather to describe another big development.
The expert definition for the cloud, according to Forrester Research, is ‘A standardised IT capability, such as software, app platform, or infrastructure, delivered via Internet technologies in a pay-per-use and self-service way’.
As the definition outlines, there are different categories of services that a cloud can provide: One, Software-as-a- Services (SaaS), comprises of end-user applications delivered as a service rather than traditional on-premise software. Two, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), provides an independent platform as a service on which developers can build and deploy customer applications. Three, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), primarily comprises the hardware and technology for computing power, storage, operating systems or other infrastructure delivered as an on-demand service, rather than a dedicated on-site resource.
Why Cloud Services
But why all the hype around cloud computing? Three words: cheaper, faster, greener. Without any infrastructure investments, one can get powerful software and massive computing resources quickly -with lower up-front costs and fewer management headaches down the road.
The hype surrounding cloud computing is recent, but the services in the cloud are not particularly new. Windows Live Hotmail, one of the most popular messaging services worldwide, launched in 1996 and now serves 400 million accounts. People have been meeting in the cloud for at least 10 years, using hosted conference services, like Microsoft Office Live Meeting, which hosts 5 billion conference minutes a year.
The hype surrounding cloud computing is recent, but the services in the cloud are not particularly new. Windows Live Hotmail, one of the most popular messaging services worldwide, launched in 1996 and now serves 400 million accounts. People have been meeting in the cloud for at least 10 years using hosted conference services, like Microsoft Office Live Meeting, which hosts 5 billion conference minutes a year.
What’s new are the growing number of services and alternative payment models that promise appealing cost savings, security and flexibility. Cloud options range from everyday services, like e-mail, calendaring and collaboration tools, to infrastructure services that free IT operations from mundane tasks and help reduce capital expenditures. System administrators can bring new services and computing capacity online quickly, managing costs as operational expenses. By allowing IT to respond quickly to changes, cloud computing helps administrators manage risks, peak demand, and long-term planning needs.
Cloud computing, properly implemented, provides users with greater flexibility, portability, and choice in their computing options. By running software located in a data centre, users can choose to utilise applications provided by the cloud service provider itself. They can choose to develop or run their own applications while relying on the service provider for the servers, operating systems, or storage. Or they can choose to deploy and run whatever software they wish on the service provider’s infrastructure, but retain control over the applications as well as things like operating systems and storage.
Users can choose to rely on a private cloud operated only for one organisation. Or they can choose a public cloud, which is open to the public and may have multiple enterprises, organisations and individuals that use the same infrastructure. There are additional alternatives as well.
In other words, together with smart client devices you can rely on the cloud for as little or as much of your computing needs – and keep as much data and computing functions locally on site – as you want.
Cloud computing offers new benefits for citizen centric services. Over time, it will lead to better delivery of health care and help control its costs. It will provide teachers with new tools that will make classrooms more vibrant. It will contribute to economic growth and job creation. Small and medium-sized businesses are especially likely to benefit from public clouds and the computing power they offer.
Cloud options range from everyday services, like e-mail, calendaring and collaboration tools, to infrastructure services that free IT operations from mundane tasks and help reduce capital expenditures.
And there are clear opportunities for the government itself. With access to innovative IT solutions, less time will need to be spent on procedural items, leaving the focus more on using technology to achieve their missions. I can think of the passport services, or the tax filing system in our country, and imagine how they can evolve by moving to the cloud.
These are among the many reasons we at Microsoft are excited about the potential benefits of cloud computing. We’ve invested billions of dollars to create a global breadth of cloud offerings. These include consumer offerings such as cloudbased email and collaboration products that have been in use around the world for over a decade, as well as new business online services that are already being used by 1.5 million people in 36 countries.
What Cloud Computing Offers
Instead of owning and running applications on your computers, you rent them and get them over a network.
Instead of owning and running your facility, servers, and network, you rent flexible computing capacity when you need it.
Instead of owning and maintaining systems (e.g., development, testing, production, etc.) you rent them when you need them.
Improved internal productivity
Reduced acquisition cost
Lower cost to develop, scale, operate and migrate systems
Rapid application of security and functionality updates
Pay for what you use, not peak capacity
Minimise management and maintenance
Respond to citizens’ needs with more agility
Reduce environmental impact
Going Forward: Challenges to address
Needless to say, we’re hardly alone. Everyone, it seems, is taking new steps and investing in the cloud these days. As we move to embrace the cloud, there are certain things we need to keep in mind. In order to make the cloud a success, those of us in industry – along with the government – need to pursue new initiatives to protect privacy and promote security.
We need to keep in mind that one of the fundamental benefits of the personal computer revolution has been that it has made computing more personal in nature. It has empowered individuals to use technology in the way they choose. It has enabled individuals to store their information where they choose. It has given individuals the freedom to share their information when they choose and with whom they choose.
No technology is perfect. But unquestionably the PC revolution has empowered individuals and democratised technology in new and profoundly important ways. As we increasingly connect smarter client devices with the resources in the cloud, our challenge is to build on these successes and make them greater still. We should not and need not sacrifice the personalisation of technology in order to benefit from computers in the cloud.
At Microsoft, we also recognise that cloud computing creates the opportunity for us to pursue more open and interoperable solutions. As Ray Ozzie, our Chief Software Architect, said when we launched this new platform, “we’ve designed Windows Azure to be one of the most open cloud platforms on the market, and we are working hard to make Azure a great platform for all users and developers – including those who want to write or run open-source applications.”
On our part, our mission as a company vis-a-vis the cloud is to make it easy for governments to optimise their computing resources by providing choices of cloud solutions portability and interoperability with on-premise solutions.
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