Cloud Computing: Its not just about access from anywhere

Article first published as Cloud Computing: It’s Not Just About Access From Anywhere on Technorati.

Too many extolling the virtues of cloud computing are ignoring its most transformational benefits

Cloud computing has definitely moved into the mainstream. You now see commercials from Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and others every evening on prime time Cable TV. CNBC has created a Cloud Computing Special Report for investors to learn more about it. Even government agencies are now moving to cloud-based solutions.

Unfortunately, one of the most touted reasons we see for using cloud computing – that it provides universal access to data and applications from the Internet – has nothing to do with what cloud computing actually is. This is simply what web-based applications have been doing since the 1990s. True cloud computing offers a whole lot more.

In October 2009, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published an excellent definition of cloud computing that calls out five essential characteristics that separate clouds from simple remotely hosted, web-based computing models:

  1. On-demand self-service
  2. Broad network access
  3. Resource pooling
  4. Rapid elasticity
  5. Measured service

I know, some of these terms are mouthful – especially to those who do “live and breathe” technology. However, they remove so much of the work and complexity that has so frequently made management of computing so painful and costly:

On-demand Self-Service (Think “Now”): With on on-demand self-service, you do not need to ask your provider to execute an “IT project” to enable you to use your application (or update it) to support a new business development. You can do whatever you need, when you need it – without the cost and delay of overhead managing your vendor.

Broad Network Access (Think “Convenience”): This lets you work wherever you need, whenever you need – from your work or home computer, netbook, tablet, or smartphone. Traditionally, this was done through browser, to bypass the need to install local software. However, the rise of (cloud-based) App Stores now allows us to install richer applications to access our data – wherever we are, on-demand.

These first two characteristics are what most people think of when talking about cloud computing. However, it is the next three characteristics that make true clouds stand out:

Resource Pooling (Think “Black Box”): Somewhere far away IT people are managing shared, redundant infrastructure across many data centers. They manage maintenance, business continuity, elimination of failures and bottlenecks, etc. You gain all of the benefit of these large-scale investments in time and resources – but without the need to do any work.

Rapid Elasticity (Think “No Limits”): You never have to worry about capacity planning. If you suddenly get a surge in traffic (due to an emergency or unexpected popularity) the computing resources you need are automatically – and immediately – available. You avoid slow-downs, timeouts and outages that waste time, cause frustration and turn away customers.

Measured Service (Think “Value”): Pay only for what you use – and no more. Rather than paying 100% for servers that you only use at 20% utilization, you pay for the exact number of resources you use, when you use them. The ideal cloud providers charge usage in terms that everyday people – not just IT systems administrators – understand and value.

cloudcomputing-180pxsWhen explaining these cloud computing characteristics to those whose “day jobs” are not in tech, I like to use the electricity analogy. When you buy a new television, you do not call the power company and ask them to initiate a project to set up your television. You simply plug it in and begin using it. If you don’t like where it is in your house, you unplug it, move it to a different room, and plug it in again. At the end of the month, you don’t pay for the power company’s generator and labor investments; you pay for the extra kilowatt-hours your television used.

Services that meet all five of these characteristics are so much more convenient and valuable than legacy computing models. That’s why cloud computing has the potential to be so transformational.