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Think of cloud computing like a power grid

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We’ve all heard about it, but what is exactly is cloud computing and how can it benefit us as a home and business user?

One of the most important applications for the cloud is backing up data an issue which was brought to the fore following the fire which broke out at HWP earlier this year destroying all of the company’s records.

The term cloud refers to data storage and software applications delivered over the internet, providing a greater level of security, access and control of that information.

Sam Sena, head of professional services at Logic Communications, said that the best way to describe the new phenomenon that already touches a lot of our lives is to think of an analogy of the power grid.

During the industrial revolution of the mid-19th century, Mr Sena said, the electrical power used to light homes and factories was limited to specific geographical areas and in many cases unreliable and costly with most business owners who could afford it investing heavily in building their own power plants, which again were expensive to run and required experts to operate them.

But with the advent of the power grid, human civilisation was able to make a big leap forward and with the support of governments, utility companies partnered with various communities and industry to make power affordable, available and reliable to a point where we take it for granted when we walk into a room a flip a switch the lights will turn on, he added.

In the same way, Mr Sena said that cloud was characterised by the formation of various service providers, who like, utility companies, deliver large scale computing services at affordable rates that the end user has come to expect as standard.

“The term ‘cloud‘ conjures up the image of a fluffy white substance, ethereal and formless,” he said. “That is a very exact metaphor for what is cloud today.”

Mr Sena said that all clouds are typically:

l Self-provisioning enabling the customer to set up their services and add or remove features without requiring any help from the service provider

l Elastic able to grow or contract to meet the needs of its clients and quickly add resources at times when you need it and then scale back when you don’t like your monthly electric bill which goes up or down depending on usage.

l Resilient tolerant to power outages and cyber attacks. However, prominent outages with the likes of Amazon and Research in Motion have left many consumers with doubts.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines cloud computing in three categories:

1. Cloud Software as a ServiceThe capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure and accessible from various client devices through a thin client interface such as a web browser. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure, network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.

2. Cloud Platform as a Service

The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created applications using programming languages and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure, network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but the consumer has control over the deployed applications and possibly application hosting environment configurations.

3. Cloud Infrastructure as a Service

The capability provided to the consumer is to rent processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage, deployed applications, and possibly select networking components.

Mr Sena said that the global interest in cloud services arose from a number of factors including the widespread adoption of virtualisation taking the basic elements of a computer as and spreading it across multiple servers and locations, enabling the building blocks of a server to move around between the hardware and providing a greater flexibility in the design and built IT services and applications such as websites to take advantage of seasonal variations in demand.

“Before the cloud came around, internet retailers such as Amazon had a really tough time keeping up with demand during their peak buying seasons,” he said.

“In the weeks prior to Thanksgiving, they were expecting the number of visitors to their website to increase by two to three-fold, and stay that way for a couple of weeks for the holiday buying season.

“The only option was to invest potentially millions of dollars in extra server computing resources to enable their websites to scale out to take the load of the holiday season. This led to a huge wastage, as for the rest of the year, web retailers would never use close to all of that computing power, not to mention all the power and space required to house the equipment.

“With virtualisation and cloud, retailers can now ‘lease’ additional computing power just for the holiday season. In the weeks up to the holiday season, web retailers are now using services such as Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s EC2 to temporarily acquire additional computing resources and then scale back for the remainder of the year. The computing resources are now freed up for other cloud customers in the rest of the year.

“In fact, cloud service providers are able to very effectively counter seasonal effects of demand, by spreading their computing resources among a large global customer base in the off-season period.”

Pointing to the early adopters of cloud, including the financial services and manufacturing industries, and the broader adoption as businesses were attracted to its lower costs and flexibility, Mr Sena said that it was anticipated that after the first wave, the pace of mainstream adoption would continue to increase with a greater variety of services designed to reach out to the individual, such as Apple’s iCloud.

A significant and sometimes overlooked part of the customer experience, however, he said, was the connection to the cloud, with the speed and reliability of an Internet or communications link having the potential to severely impact that experience.

There is also a global trend for telecommunications service providers to start partnering up with cloud service providers as well as offering their own cloud services to customers. With Verizon’s recent acquisition of Terremark, a global leader in cloud hosted services for more than $1.4 billion and setting the stage for a pending wave of consolidations, telecoms providers can now deliver cloud services to their customers directly from their own networks, said Mr Sena.

Meanwhile regulatory reform and improvements in Bermuda’s local telecommunications infrastructure in coming years will also mean that the average user will be able to enjoy all the benefits of high-speed internet (more than 20 megabits per second) at prices that will be more aligned with what consumers are used to paying in major cities like New York and London, and all of the Island’s internet service providers are investing heavily in updating their networks to support the increasing demands of cloud savvy customers.

Michael Branco, senior vice-president of Ignition, said that more and more companies were adopting the private cloud, doing away with the need to house their own production systems themselves and allowing them to remove their servers altogether, while moving specific applications and data into a dedicated and secure space within the data hosting centre.

“An important side-effect of moving a company’s operations to the cloud is that the business automatically has a disaster recovery and business continuity solution in place,” he said.

“Back-ups of data and applications are made by default without having to duplicate everything.

“Data and applications are also copied between multiple data hosting centres. This means that should one centre go down, data and applications will still be available. In reality those data hosting centres are of course built far more robustly than anybody’s own office building with multiple redundancy and back-up systems, but companies do want to see that their data is backed up.”

Cloud central: Pictured is the nerve centre of Logic's new cloud computing product (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Cloud central: Pictured is the nerve centre of Logic's new cloud computing product (Photo by Akil Simmons)

1. Location: Where will your data be stored? You need to be aware that different countries have different rules about data management.

2. Network: What network is used? How reliable and fast is it?

3. Integration: How easy will it be to migrate your information over to the service and retrieve it?

4. Support: What level of support will be provided? Will you have 24/7 access to technical support?

5. Scalability: Can the service grow with your business?

6. Business Continuity: Does the provider have a plan in place?

7. Costs: How does this compare to your current costs?

8. Communication: How will the provider communicate with you?

9. Compliance: Does the service meet your requirements? Can data privacy be maintained?

10. Security: How robust are the security features?

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Published November 08, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 30, 2011 at 8:15 am)

Think of cloud computing like a power grid

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