What is cloud computing

What is the cloud and how does it benefit us in business in South Africa?

If you have ten or more employees, you have dealt with plenty of lost files, hard drive failures, software upgrades and storage space for all the information that keeps coming in to the office.

All employees need the right hardware and software licences in order to do their jobs properly. So… how would you feel about losing all that worry over expensive software and just loading up one application that everyone can use?  Think about working on a web-based service where all the programs needed are hosted and ready to access.  Remote machines run everything from email to complex data programs.  It’s called cloud computing and it could change the way you do business.

The beauty of a cloud computing system is local computers no longer have to be involved in running of single applications. A network of computers in this “cloud” will do all the work instead and hardware and software demands on the user’s side are dramatically reduced. 

As a user will only need to ensure that the user’s computer can run the cloud computing sytsem’s interface software which can be as simple as having a web browser.

It sounds very sci-fi, but we have all used cloud computing at some point.  Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail are cloud computerised services where you log in to your email remotely from any computer with an internet connection. In this case there is no software or storage on your computer, the service comes from the computer cloud.

There are two sides to cloud computing.  The front end is what the client sees on his screen when he connects to the internet.  This includes the client’s computer and the application he has to access the cloud. There are different interfaces for various applications with some being web-based through a browser while others have unique programs providing network access to the client or user.    The back end is what is sitting in the cloud section of the system. Various computers, servers and data storage systems make up this cloud of services and will most likely have a dedicated server.  This server runs the system to monitor traffic and client interactions and follows a set of rules using special software called middleware. This facilitates any networked computers to communicate with each other.  Companies have varying demands in terms of the digital storage they require and the demand is sometimes high but cloud computers usually have twice the number of storage devices for this sort of information and copy data, to allow for redundancy, onto other devices.

If a cloud computing company has a lot of clients, there's likely to be a high demand for a lot of storage space. Cloud computing systems need at least twice the number of storage devices it requires to keep all its clients' information stored. That's because these devices, like all computers, occasionally break down. A cloud computing system must make a copy of all its clients' information and store it on other devices. The copies enable the central server to access backup machines to retrieve data that otherwise would be unreachable. These copies ensure redundancy and your information will never be “lost”.

The applications of cloud computing are practically limitless. With the right middleware, a cloud computing system could execute all the programs a normal personal computer or laptop could run.

 The advantages of cloud computing become obvious when customers can access their programs and applications as well as saved data from anywhere at any time. This mobility obviously needs an internet connection but the data is not confined to one’s personal work station or even the business internal network. It can be done at any computer in another company or even when travelling to another country.

Cloud computer operations mean that local company costs are brought down with the elimination of the need to buy and update hardware.  A simpler work station with less memory or speed will still be able to get to the applications easily as the cloud system takes care of all of that.  An inexpensive computer terminal with a monitor, keyboard and mouse with enough processing power for running the middleware is all that is needed. No large hard drive is necessary as it never has to store all that information again. Software licences, which can be very costly in an organisation with a large staff compliment and the cloud computing provider usually charges a set fee which includes keeping up to date on the latest software and licencing.

Servers and digital storage take up space as well and even might lead to renting of office area to put up large server environments. Cloud computing offers the option of storing large amounts of data and removes this need for extra physical space.

What are the concerns about cloud computing ?

Privacy and security are very worrying when it comes to choosing the right cloud computing services.  The very idea of handing over confidential and vital data to another provider is a little scary. Some executives keep important information locked away in a safe or encrypted. However, the comforting aspect is cloud services have to ensure absolute confidentiality and safety in order to stay in business. It would be business suicide to allow any information to land in the wrong hands or have a breach in privacy. It is in their interest to use the most advanced techniques to make sure their ethos is one hundred per cent trustworthy.

Privacy provides a whole bunch of challenges as if a client can log in from any location to access his information,it is possible this could be compromised.  Cloud computing services user authentication protocols like usernames and passwords but other restrictions are often placed allowing a user access to only certain kinds of data which are relevant to his or her job.

Ethical questions have been posed as to whether the data company can withhold information to a client, say for non – payment. Another business question is who actually owns the data if they store it?  Obviously a lot of these concerns can be eliminated by signing with a reputable cloud service with a good look at the terms and conditions to make sure that information is still owned by the company leasing the cloud facilities.

Cloud computing will eventually have some effect on other industries like computer maintenance outlets and repair stores. If companies switch to cloud, they will have less need to call in service technicians and IT experts. However, many believe these trained people will be absorbed by the cloud industry as it grows.



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