Rush into the cloud

48 Owen McQuade looks at the promise of cloud computing and tries to get beyond the hype.

Most, if not all, media announcements from technology companies now mention ‘cloud computing’. Many technology companies have made it central to future growth strategies and even government is getting in on the act with the advent of the ‘G-Cloud’. Despite a certain weariness now apparent when the c-word is used, cloud computing does offer the prospect of changing the way IT services are delivered and consumed.

What is cloud computing?

In very simple terms, cloud computing is a new consumption and delivery model for IT and business services and is characterised by: ubiquitous network access; on-demand self-service, pay-per-use and location-independent resource-sharing. The cloud has evolved from on-demand and grid computing and utilises advances made in virtualisation and networking in recent years.

Why the excitement?

The most obvious benefit cloud computing brings is a reduction in IT costs, both operating and capital. Cloud computing also offers the opportunity for doing things differently, with new business models emerging. One important aspect of moving to the cloud has been a deeper engagement between IT professionals and those managers running the business processes. Previously line managers consumed IT support services and applications. The nature of cloud computing means that those consuming the services are much more in control of shaping the services with IT professionals developing the cloud support.

Cloud computing represents the commoditisation of the delivery of IT supported services by turning an organisations physical IT infrastructure into an internal cloud resource. Instead of limiting software or IT services to a specific location or process, they are made available across the whole organisation. Large pools of systems are linked together to provide services to a number of different users. Instead of one piece of software working on one desktop that has been configured and licensed to one user, applications can be deployed on any computer system across the organisation via secure, reliable data centres.

In essence cloud computing is really a convergence of a number of technology trends: virtualisation, increased and cheaper storage, advanced network development and shared and outsourced services.

Public or private?

In the initial rush towards the cloud, the focus was on the public cloud whereby IT activities are provided over the internet. The public cloud offers SMEs the opportunity to access IT infrastructure and applications that were previously restricted because of scale and costs. The focus for public sector and larger private enterprises has been toward the development of ‘private’ clouds with activities provided over the organisation’s intranet. The private cloud owner does not share resources with other outside organisations through the internet but can choose to share resources within the confines of its own private network. This private approach has much scope for application within the public sector.

G-Cloud

Post-spending review, the focus for delivering public services is doing more with less. This is against a backdrop of rising sustainability and information security targets. In recent times, ICT has always been a key enabler in achieving increased productivity and the creation of the G-Cloud will allow public sector bodies to select and host ICT services from one secure shared network.

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