Cloud Computing for Dummies (like me)

The advent and continued impact of Cloud Computing on the worldwide information, communication and digital lifestyle technology space is not a surprise. It makes sense as a concept and fits into the instantaneous, automatic manner in which we manage our lives. This is not simply another technology trend – we are actually on the cusp of an IT revolution.

A critical point of departure on any meaningful discussion on this subject is that it represents an evolution of sorts. Technology has developed to the extent that we are now in a position in which we can run fewer computers but derive more from the situation.

Darwinism posits the evolution of diverse species from a common ancestor. In technology, we are experiencing a phenomenon that is almost the opposite: numerous similar ideas evolving into a single commercially viable entity.

The same effect was witnessed with applications servers, request brokers, n-tier computing, artificial intelligence, etc., where a vague, diverse set of ideas solidified over a period of time into a singular understanding of something that makes commercial or technical sense to the common psyche.

The concept of Cloud Computing suggests the utilisation of different technologies to move the ‘usage’ of software processes into a ‘black box’ where the end-user does not need to know where this software is running from, what hardware is being used, who the service provider of the virtual processing is, etc.

In other words Cloud Computing refers to the use of the World Wide Web to provide applications or parts thereof without the user having to know where the software resides, what memory, disk space, operating systems, or processing power it requires to operate.

Every Google search that a user fires off from his or her browser can potentially utilise thousands of servers, virtual machines, shared disk resources, and processes. Cloud Computing is a reality.

The use of a bank ATM is a good analogy. A customer will use this facility to withdraw money, for example. He or she does not know what technology is being used, how the device/ATM computer knows amounts, where the money in the mechanical distribution devices comes from or what operating system the ATM runs on.

However, the user certainly understands and rightfully expects output (money, card and receipt), a response time (no more than five seconds) and immediate impact (reduced balance).

There is confusion in the market over how Software as a Service (SaaS) relates to Cloud Computing.

It is best to consider the cloud as the underlying engine that delivers SaaS. Additionally, Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), are all integral parts of Cloud Computing.

The concept of infiniband – dedicated high-bandwidth communications within the cloud – will bring a level of quality and performance to the SaaS offering that would normally not have been possible.

Whilst this all sounds practical, the reality is that Cloud Computing, in its purest form, is yet to materialise in South Africa. It will remain an ideal until such time as we experience affordable broadband Internet access and reliable connection uptime.

Expensive Service Level Agreements would probably allow larger companies to embrace Cloud Computing in one form or another, but smaller companies with limited cash-flow might have to wait until fast, reliable, broadband internet access becomes the norm before they can even consider leveraging off benefits.

And herein lies the irony: it is the small companies with limited capital resources that could potentially benefit the most from Cloud Computing because it holds the promise of low or no cost operating systems and applications, and inexpensive computing devices to run the browser on.

Cloud Computing is not a technological breakthrough, but rather an iterative evolution to get to a point where we could run fewer computers but benefit extensively as a result.

This will translate into savings on software costs, operating system costs, electricity, and hardware.

From a South African perspective, irrespective of how excited we may get about this development, unless we can provide faster Internet access at a more predictable and affordable cost, the concept will remain on the peripherals while the rest of the world thrives on its benefits.

The sooner we get our local bandwidth challenges resolved, the sooner ‘Joe Soap’ and his fellow entrepreneurs can benefit from convergent evolution.

For more information on hosted solutions, feel free to look at our web site (www.accsys.co.za).  Accsys provides a hybrid People Management Solution that comprises Payroll, Human Resource Management, Time & Attendance and Access Control – hosted on the cloud!

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