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A Little About the Cloud.

There is a lot noise about “The Cloud” these days.  The internet has become such a widely connected global pool of resources that for many businesses, in-house server-based tools and resources can be supplemented or replaced by servers and software accessible over the network.  In our world today, the person who takes your fast food order in the drive-through may be a thousand miles away in a specialized call center.  The order is taken, delivered to the kitchen a few yards away, and ready when you pass the delivery window.  A terminal at the window registers your payment, counts change and the funds are already posted in banking center on the other side of the continent.  Everything might take place in your own neighborhood, and it really does not matter.  The retailer has rapid cash flow, ordering statistics, forecasting and purchasing functions to support the demands of customers in near real-time.

For most of us, the web-based applications we use on our local computers have back-end servers concentrated in data centers dedicated to those services.  They contain thousands of servers that deliver our web pages with their specific content and many functions.  These too are “cloud” services.  We get our results locally and the computing services are scattered around the globe.

In network diagrams, local systems are carefully drawn and annotated with a connection shown to the “Internet” which is rendered as a cloud graphic.  This is where the term originated.

You don’t have to be a big company to take advantage of cloud services.  Some companies choose to do their own.  These are called “private” clouds because they are available only to serve a certain company or group of companies, not the general public.  They can be as small as a single server or collections of hundreds of computers in private or outsourced data centers.  In other cases, all the resources can be obtained from large cloud provider company which owns data centers and supporting software to allow small companies to rent only those resources that they need.  The customer company is relieved to a great extent from managing and information technology infrastructure and concentrates only on the application and desktop technology needed to support its employees and customers.

It all sounds too good to be true!

Well, it almost is too good to be true.  The transition from cloud-based applications for a company staff takes a little time.  Little customizations that all users do to their desktops can’t necessarily happen on a shared server platform.  But, even this is changing as Desktop Virtualization is being deployed which basically gives every user a custom environment, generated on the fly when they log on, just like on a local “real” computer.

Network reliability is essential.  Internet connections can be unreliable on a sporadic basis and with in-house desktops and servers, it’s an inconvenience, but business can go on to some extent.  If you are depending on an internet connection for 90% or more of your work, then outage is not an option during working hours.  Companies with very heavy dependence on internet connectivity for minute-to-minute operations will need to work with their service providers to minimize interruptions.  If you’re on the cloud and your internet service is down, then most of your employees who depend on cloud applications are not working – and they’re not happy.  Savings in infrastructure may be offset by higher costs for faster, more reliable internet connections.


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