Monday, November 5, 2012

The cloud: Hype or real?

The ever-increasing hype about the cloud is getting to me. My personal experience is that a lot of people in our industry love throwing around the buzzword, but simply have no idea what it means. To dispel some  myths, I recently (ok it was months ago, but I'm only getting around to blogging about it now...), did some research and gave an internal presentation at one of our company functions.

I've made the slideshow accompanying my presentation available for download here. Some of the slides are very specific to our business and these were designed to accompany my talk so it isn't intended as a comprehensive narrative in itself, but hopefully something that can be of use to readers anyway.

The highlights:

  1. The term "cloud" actually comes from network diagrams that used clouds to represent portions of the network that did not need to be known for purposes of the diagram. In this context "cloud" means something like "Unknown magic happens here".
  2. In most modern contexts "the cloud" typically means the Internet or some subset thereof.
  3. A lot of people seem to refer to cloud when they actually mean cloud computing. This can be defined as data, services, or applications hosted on anonymous Internet-based infrastructure. Peder Ulander of Citrix gives a more comprehensive and pretty good description in this video:
  4. Cloud computing can be categorized by service type as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS). 
  5. While PaaS (e.g. Azure, Amazon Web Services, etc.) is fairly new, IaaS and SaaS are as old as the Internet itself. IaaS is really nothing but hosting services and web hosting companies have been doing this for years. It has changed and evolved over time though and there is a lot of new stuff out there in this space, but it's still the same concept. Earliest SaaS examples are probably web mail services like hotmail. This field is growing very quickly with ever more advanced apps. Good examples of business applications in this area are, Netsuite, and even our very own NuQ HR/Payroll system (see
  6. Cloud computing has advantages and disadvantages. 
    1. For me, the biggest advantage is not having to worry about infrastructure. Your application can scale with your business without you even having to think about it, much less buy dedicated hardware and software to support it. This is based purely on my personal experience and probably more relevant to SaaS than IaaS or PaaS.
    2. The biggest disadvantage (again only in my personal experience) is that support is often impersonal. Services are designed to scale well and that means personal service is usually not a priority. When everything works well this isn't an issue, but when you do have a problem that really affects your business this can be extremely frustrating.
In conclusion, the cloud is just hype, but it's also real. 

It's hype, because it's existed for far longer than the cliched terminology that the buzzword brigade so love to use today. There's nothing new about the concept and it's simply an ongoing evolution of services available on the Internet. It's also very real, because this evolution has reached a point where the services on offer are becoming rapidly more useful in our day-to-day business and personal lives.

In my experience when you meet someone who goes on about the wonders of the cloud, this is a good indication that they've heard the hype, but don't understand what it is. In most cases you can replace "cloud" with "Internet" in their every sentence.

No comments:

Post a Comment