Cloud Computing 101 – Who should care?

To the casual end user who is just trying to get some work done there may seem to be little difference between cloud computing, desktop computing, and any other type of computing model that has been floated around over the past few decades. He or she may even use the same types of software applications to do the exact same types of things. That’s the point! Cloud computing offers a better way to do the same types of things.

So then, why is cloud computing any better than ordinary desktop computing?

The answer depends on who you are…

Cloud computing for end-users

As an end user, cloud computing lets you run software applications and access data from any place and time, and from any computer; without the need to ever install, upgrade, troubleshoot software applications physically on a local desktop or server. This is one of the most important elements of cloud computing, and why it has become so popular today.  In a sense, cloud computing outsources the technical hassles to someone else.

Cloud computing also makes it easier to do work anytime and from anywhere, often referred to as “ubiquitous.” The old model of working involved going to the office from 8:00 to 5:00, and getting on a plane and taking a business trip or two every year. If we did work from a location outside of the office, then when we returned to the office, time had to be spent synchronizing the ad hoc work done at home with the in-office systems. Today’s model of working is different. We can get just as much done at home or on the road as we can in the office. We can connect instantly to the office from anywhere in the world, gain secure access to our applications and data, and in short, get things done in a way that was never before possible.

Cloud computing for system administrators

Keep in mind that almost all PC owners have become system administrators in a way, unless we’re fortunate enough to have access to a teenager to install and manage things for us. If your PC has ever crashed and wasted your day, then you’ll understand the benefits of somebody else doing the dirty work. The problems can get out of control inside big companies, which manage thousands of software configurations, and pay employees whether their PCs work or not. The superiority of the cloud model comes in when we start to realize that desktop applications are more or less static, and cloud applications can be continuously refined. Desktop applications must be physically installed on a PC, upgraded periodically, have patches applied when they become available, and re-installed when the user moves to a new desktop or when the old one crashes. The cloud model eliminates those inconveniences. Need a new PC? Just buy one. You can still access your cloud applications without having to re-install anything. System administrators, who may need to manage hundreds, or even thousands of desktops, remote devices, servers, storage arrays and other equipment, quickly get bogged down—and the cloud model makes their lives easier.

Cloud computing for software developers

There is an even bigger advantage on the development end. Because the applications are delivered from a common code base from a central location, upgrades to the application, patches and fixes can be pushed out to the user transparently. Desktop applications require the user to actively install a patch, or at least, allow for an auto-connection to take place. Microsoft Windows uses the auto-update feature, which has become very useful and convenient, for example. However, it still requires patience on the part of the end user, who must wait for the upgrade to come in over the Internet, and then must re-boot the system for it to take effect. A cloud application, since it does not exist on the desktop, does not have that requirement. All upgrades take place on the back end, requiring no intervention, action, attention or patience from the end-user. This makes it much easier for developers to continuously upgrade their applications, and to push those upgrades out to users on a real-time basis. Going a level deeper to the platform stage, cloud computing gives developers another critical advantage. Since the platform provides developers with a common set of cloud services that have already proven to be robust, all applications are that much more stable—and quicker to completion, as well.

Cloud computing for IT buyers, corporate and federal

The critical advantages listed above have not been lost to corporate users. The ability to lessen the workload on system administrators and developers alike lets companies save dollars spent on manpower. In short, your company can do more with less, and with greater efficiency. Besides the manpower advantage, companies will also gain an advantage in terms of reduced capital expenditures. Why? The cloud not only reduces time spent on admin duties and development, it also addresses the physical infrastructure itself. Companies taking full advantage of cloud computing will enjoy a reduced need for servers and storage arrays—providing another source of savings (and in turn, reducing the system admin overhead even further).

In the corporate world, one of the most important parts of business is improving the bottom line. That’s done either through increasing revenue, or by decreasing costs. When decreasing costs, the ideal scenario is to do so while still maintaining the same or better level of efficiency the company enjoyed before the decrease in costs; cloud computing provides the answer to that need. Let’s take a look at a few of the dollars-and-cents statistics:
Enterprise software represents an enormous expense, as some $800 billion a year is spent on purchasing and maintaining software. The bulk of that—or about 80 percent of the $800 billion—is spent not on the actual purchase of software, but on installing and maintaining it.   The federal government alone spends $70 billion a year on IT systems, much of which goes toward enterprise systems. Most servers operate at only about 15 percent capacity at most times, and over-provisioning is regrettably common. Virtualization, an important element of cloud computing, allows the data center operator to make full use of server capacity. Enterprise cloud platforms can save even more.

The advantage to individuals, small businesses and large enterprises which buy software is obvious. The cost of software represents a major expense for businesses of all sizes. The presence of cloud computing options has allowed many small and midsize businesses to gain access to important features of high-end, enterprise-class software that would not otherwise be available. As a result, a major barrier to success has been dissolved, and the saga of million-dollar price tags for enterprise software is nearing an end. Large corporations will save money; and smaller companies will gain the advantage of being able to access more software resources, which were previously unavailable due to either high cost, or the software simply being unavailable for smaller implementations.