Cloud computing is hot, hot, hot. Early this year, PC World predicted that cloud computing would shape up as a big trend in 2009. We all know Amazon as a giant Internet retailer, but its newest business is cloud computing; you can now buy processing power and storage from Amazon! Last year, Google launched Google App Engine, a service that lets developers write applications and host them on Google infrastructure. SalesForce has a similar cloud that lets developers build and host systems on top of the SalesForce engine.
But what exactly is cloud computing and why does it matter?
Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet.” Whatis says that cloud computing is different from traditional hosting in three ways:
- It is sold on demand, typically by the hour (this is why cloud computing is often called utility computing)
- A user can have as much or as little of a service as they want at any given time
- The service is fully managed by the provider (the consumer needs nothing but a PC and Internet access).
Just imagine this: your organization has 1,000 boxes of documents to scan and OCR and you need to get the work done in one week. By hosting your application on the cloud, you could have as much processing power as you need. Hundreds of servers could be deployed to your project at once. When the work is done, your hosting obligations go to zero.
Or this: your organization issues a monthly report that is hugely popular. By hosting your site or report on the cloud, you can have as much bandwidth as you want during the one day a month when the report is in demand.
There are inherest risks in cloud computing that are still being worked out by the vendors, including:
- Programs are cloud-specific, meaning if you want to host your dot com on the Amazon cloud, you need to write to the Amazon cloud’s specifications. (There is a standards project underway, however.)
- Security issues abound when you have confidential information, particularly data protected by HIPAA, hosted in an unknown location.
- At least one consulting company (McKinsey) reports that companies are better off hosting on their own.
I’m excited about cloud computing because it could level the playing field between the big and little guys. Small business will have the opportunity to do big things on infrastructure they no longer need to own. Don’t you love the Internet?