Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cloud computing: the new IT trend

Cloud computing: the new IT trend

Looking for meaning in a sky full of fluffy clouds is wide open to interpretation. And in these early days of cloud computing, so too is defining this exciting new technology.

It’s easy to confuse cloud computing with utility computing. Simply put, utility computing involves customers receiving IT resources from a third-party service provider. The customer pays only for what they use; it could be extra storage capacity at a peak period, or special applications for a unique job. This is a useful approach in an era when IT departments are looking to cut under-utilised hardware and unnecessary costs. “Businesses get on-demand access to power directly related to their needs, without the worry. They simply pay as they go: which could mean functionality for one hour or for one month”, says Dr John Manley, Director, Automated Infrastructure Lab, HP Labs – and a key member of HP’s Team Cloud.

The terms cloud computing and utility computing are often used to mean the same thing, but experts say the cloud is an advance on utility computing. Yes, it will also provide pooled resources on demand. But clouds will be purpose-built, ultra-powerful new infrastructures where tailored solutions are designed, deployed and run extreme-performance virtual applications, sharing resources and able to dynamically go up and down in size, while offering fail-safe redundancy.

SaaS: Who shares wins

Many technology vendors are adopting the Software-as-a-Service SaaS business model, which involves sharing software with organisations on demand, sourced from a cloud computing facility.

SaaS clearly highlights the benefits of cloud computing. Businesses can add new capabilities quickly without having to invest in new equipment, train new staff, or pay to licence new applications. They just access what they need via the Internet from a remote cloud farm. In doing so, they get to concentrate on the most important elements of their business and let an experienced IT vendor take care of technology issues like the cost of cooling, powering and maintaining high-performance hardware.

New developments on the horizon

HP, Intel and Yahoo! have announced a joint effort, the Cloud Computing Test Bed, which will allow researchers test and develop new types of cloud-computing software, data centre management and hardware issues. The test bed is designed to promote open and collaborative research by removing the financial and logistical barriers to research in Internet-scale computing.

HP Labs is working to help HP and its customers benefit from the industry’s shift toward cloud computing, a driving force behind HP’s vision of Everything as a Service. With Everything as a Service, devices and services will interact seamlessly through the cloud, and businesses and individuals will use services that anticipate their needs based on location, preferences, calendar and communities.

The silver lining in the cloud

Given the benefits of cloud computing, some potential pitfalls should also be noted. One is security, currently a major focus for HP Labs. Should you trust somebody else to protect your applications and the information they contain? Another issue is relinquishing control of important assets. What happens when a problem arises? Are your issues going to be attended to swiftly, or does another customer get their problem fixed first?

Regardless, expect a growing range of cloud solutions to float on the market soon. Offering help to businesses wishing to consolidate, lower costs and access new capabilities, it would appear that inside cloud computing, there is a silver lining.

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