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Understanding the Cloud

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Since the 60′s, cloud computing has developed along a number of lines, with Web 2.0 being the most recent evolution. However, since the internet only started to offer significant bandwidth in the 90′s, cloud computing for the masses has been something of a late developer.

One of the first milestones for cloud computing was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. This services firm paved the way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet. The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002, which provided a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Then in 2006, Amazon launched its Elastic Compute cloud (EC2) as a commercial web service that allows small companies and individuals to rent computers on which to run their own computer applications. Another big milestone came in 2009, as Web 2.0 hit its stride, and Google and others started to offer browser-based enterprise applications, through services such as Google Apps. “The most important contribution to cloud computing has been the emergence of “killer apps” from leading technology giants such as Microsoft and Google. Once these companies delivered services in a way that was reliable and easy to consume, the knock-on effect to the industry as a whole was a wider general acceptance of online services.

What is “Virtualization?”

Virtualization is at the very heart of the Cloud and allows for datacenters to allocate hardware, software, bandwidth and other resources across many different users. At its basic level, “virtualization” is the separation of hardware and software that allows for these resources to be allocated as needed. This divorce of software from hardware creates tremendous opportunities to scale numerous services, applications and entire operating systems on purpose-built hardware in a segregated, secure fashion. To further explain this let’s look at …

The Bubble Concept

Think about your operating system being encapsulated by a bubble, which never touches the physical hardware. When we’re talking about “virtualization” we are talking about creating a layer that becomes a moveable connection between two things. These two things could be hardware and software, or the could be an application and an operating system.

To elaborate, take the laptop or computer you are currently working on. Let’s assume it came with a Windows 7 operating system. You cannot move the Windows 7 operating system to another PC because it is permanently installed on your PC. In order for you to move it, you would have to “blow it away” and then call Microsoft and ask them for another key to “unlock” it again. It is basically married or merged together with the hardware.

But virtualization removes this marriage and allows the operating system to be in its own “bubble” that can be moved to different resources when needed. So if the hard drive that the Windows 7 operating system was installed upon became corrupt, it could simply be “moved” to another hard drive within the system and rebooted there.

Why Virtualize? In Two Words: Portability & Flexibility

Keeping in mind that technology is only helpful when it becomes a useful business application; virtualization offers two very valuable benefits to your business. It makes your computer network both portable and flexible.


If you have a complete machine encapsulated in a bubble, you could run that system on any server that supports that technology. For example, one could be Dell, the other HP, one could be newer, one could be older, and the contents of the bubble don’t matter. They’ve been separated from the underlying infrastructure and because of this they are only talking to the virtualization layer … so hardware and software can be reconfigured on the fly as needed.

This also has huge value when looking at business continuity and disaster recovery. If you have backups of these “virtual machines” they can be installed and booted anywhere. They can even be booted in the cloud, meaning that if your server was destroyed in a fire and you had an “image” of the server offsite, the server could be booted and accessed on a server in a datacenter (anywhere in the world) and accessed almost immediately by the business’s employees.

Hardware upgrades can be dealt with in exactly the same situation. When you bring a new server into the mix, there is no complicated rebuild. For physical servers, you simply bring a new one into the environment and then move the virtual machine onto it to redistribute the data.

This is simply not the case with traditional hardware – where any hardware replacement or upgrade requires lots of downtime and labor to get the operating system, applications and data loaded and reconfigured on the new hardware. With virtualization technology you can easily and quickly redistribute resources that you have on hand, without excessive interruption, cost or downtime.


Besides being portable, these bubbles are simple to create. When you need a new system, you no longer need to order hardware. You can carve up existing hardware, and use the complete resource, rather than letting that big CPU sit idle. This allows you to redeploy and reuse hardware quickly and easily, making it far more flexible than the hardware on its own.

This flexibility – the ability to create and divide resources as you need them changes the game! You’re no longer limited to having enough raw hardware, you’re only limited by your ability to carve it into the pieces you need and want. Not all pieces need to be running at the same time, so you can start and stop pieces as you need them.

Virtualization allows you to “try things”

… and then quickly remove them if they don’t work … you can even copy your trial and give access to others so they can experiment with it also. When using virtualization, you have a much more flexible way of working with systems than ever before. Systems can be brought up, turned down, moved around, and shaped much faster providing your business with stability and flexibility.

In A Nut Shell …

There is no end to the future uses of virtualization on the Cloud. The separation of hardware and software available through virtualization can be hugely beneficial to small to medium sized businesses. In a world where a business’s server is virtualized, this portable and flexible system is now something that can be moved, reconfigured, expanded or reduced to fit a business’s needs.

Virtualization offers businesses a substantially more flexible and stable network, while offering it for a much more manageable and affordable price.

Can My Company Really Benefit from the Cloud?

A Break From Dependence On IT To Solve a Business Problem

The biggest change the Cloud provides is that the end-user or the consumer can now simply select the type of IT service they want much in the same way you might purchase a book from Amazon.com. Whether it is a wiki, Email, or custom program, the end-user does not have to worry about involving IT to scope the hardware and maintenance needs allowing for focus on the business problem being solved.

The innovation of the Cloud opens a market where neither the end-user nor the business needs to be dependent on a specialized and trained IT department or a specific vendor. Cloud services are easily outsourced to a Cloud provider, reducing the business costs associated with maintenance, data centers, servers, compliance, backup and recovery, security, patching, virus protection, configuration management, bandwidth, and on-site support.

Now instead of a business hosting servers locally in a controlled server room where their capacity is often not fully used, the Cloud provider can reduce the total server count and make sure end users are always running the latest configuration. And if something does break or the business wants to roll out a new version, the Cloud provider can update a desktop image for the end-users who need it.

What does the Cloud Cost?

The Cloud puts the control of IT back into the hands of the Owners

By choosing a Cloud provider, the small business no longer has to worry about lining up IT to scope the hardware needs, buy servers, set up web services, and provide the on-going maintenance including patching, security, backup and recovery, and product upgrades. In minutes the business can have their software running on all devices at the company without the need for a large capital expense. The business takes on a services contract but no longer has to worry about keeping IT staff expertise current or keeping multiple IT expertise in house for different systems.

Less is needed for energy and hardware costs, and resources are more efficiently utilized as they are not wasted spent scoping, purchasing and setting up equipment. The only consideration for the business is to assure that the selected vendor has valid security processes and to keep an on-going watch to assure that the security is managed.

Cloud Computing: Hype versus Reality

The 2 main concerns about cloud computing are security and privacy. The thought of handing your important data over to something called a “cloud” can be daunting. Nervous business owners and IT personnel might hesitate to take advantage of a cloud computing system because they feel like they’re surrendering control of their company’s information. Data inside the Cloud is outside a company’s firewall and that makes companies nervous. Some of their fears include:

  • Risk of data breaching reality check
  • Appeal to cyber crooks
  • Lack of specific standards for security and data privacy
  • Questions about jurisdiction
  • Data location – Users probably do not know exactly where their data is hosted

Will Your Data Be Secure on The Cloud

Other issues with cloud computing are more philosophical. Who owns the data: the company who places their data with the cloud computing service or the cloud computing service itself? Can a cloud computing company ever legally deny a client access to their own data? Companies, law firms, and universities are currently debating these issues and others.