Sometimes I feel that IT people use a completely different language to the rest of us mere mortals. They seem to thrive on the latest acronyms so that when they get together it feels like a contest as to who can use the most and more importantly the latest buzzwords into the conversation.
In this article I hope to give an explanation as to what all this terminology means
This is probably the hottest topic at the moment. In the real world “The Cloud” is the Internet.
Instead of buying servers and then have to pay for staff to look after them. A company can simply log on to the Cloud providers such as Rackspace or Amazon and then rent server computing power. These companies will use virtualisation which is explained later.
The advantage of this is that a company does not have to pay out a minimum of £3000 for a low spec server and then wait a week for it to be delivered and installed. They can purchase the computing power they need now on a fixed monthly amount. The server is available within minutes. If they need more storage or more computing power they can simply log on to the provider and it will be available immediately.They also don’t have to employ staff to make sure that all this hardware is working correctly.
The disadvantage to all this is that the company is now totally dependant upon its Internet connection and more traffic is being transferred across it. In the traditional computing model if a company lost its internet connection then email and web browsing would be the only services affected. In the cloud model then all services will be affected. In other words the whole company could grind to a halt.
This cloud model also has security implications in that all traffic to these cloud servers should be encrypted. Also as the physical location of these servers may not be known and in fact may change without your knowledge then your data may be stored outside of the UK which may impact upon your Data Protection requirements.
However on a positive point if the company has to move offices, or in the event of a disaster and the building or access to the building was lost then all the company needs is an office with a Internet connection and systems are back up and running as normal.
This again is another hot topic but has been around now for a number of years.
If we look at the traditional model Accounts have their sales and purchase ledger system on their own server. They don’t want to share their server with any other department’s systems such as the sales CRM system because they don’t want the risk of someone from sales inadvertently getting access to the accounts system. So now we have 2 servers running at 50% capacity most of the time because accounts need the extra power at month end and sales need the spare capacity in case they run highly successful sales campaigns.
With virtualisation we can take one large server ( less than the combined power of the 2 servers)
and configure it so that it appears as 2 separate servers. Not only that, but we can take a backup of a server configuration and move it to another hardware platform within minutes. we can even create a copy of a server within minutes as well. Accounts can be allocated more power at month end if required. At the same time the company is consuming far less electricity thereby reducing the carbon foot print and the 2 virtual servers are only using up the same physical space in the server room as one physical server.
Virtualisation is not confined to servers it can also be rolled out as virtual PCs. CItrix was possibly the first to do this. This allows the IT department to have a true standard build PC image which can be rolled out across thousands of desktop PCs without the need to worry about the make or model of machine physically sat on the desktop. This model has been used extensively when moving processes overseas. The company sets up a server with a number of virtual PCs. THe off shore staff simply connect to the server in the company and run a virtual PC. The data itself still resides in UK. All that is going off shore is the screen image.
Virtualisation has made Cloud Computing possible. when you rent a server in the Cloud, you are not renting a physical server. Instead you are only renting a virtual server.
If we take our example of the accounts and sales systems described above. Both of these servers will be more or less idle overnight consuming very little computing power. But if the physical server also hosted another 2 servers for accounts and sales form a different company in a different time zone such as the USA; then our physical server is being utilised for 24 hours a day. scaling this up 10 fold or more and you will get an understanding of how renting a virtual server can be made much more cost effective than buying a physical server and reduce the overall carbon footprint as well.
The fact that you could be on the same physical machine as tens or possibly hundreds of others could present security concerns for many companies particularly in heavily regulated sectors such as Financial Services. The reason for this is that the administrator of the physical server potentially has the ability to access data on the virtual server.This makes the management of the security controls much more complex Most Cloud service companies do offer the option of hosting all your virtual servers on a physical server not shared by anyone else, however it comes at a higher price.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
This topic is not as hot as the described above, mainly because it’s been around for a couple of years know. However it is still important.
If we look at the traditional model for a Sales lead and Customer management system for a sales department. The company wil have to purchase a server, software licences for the maximum number of sales staff employed at any one time. The software will be installed on all Sales PCs and then kept up to date. IT will have to make sure that all data is backed up and keep the hardware running. In addition IT will also have to make sure that all sales staff have access to the system when on the road. This will involve setting up remote connections into the company network.
With Software as a Service, the software is rented from a provider who hosts the software in the cloud. The software is web based therefore the only software you need is a web browser. Mobile workers simply need a mobile Internet connection to access the system. A great example of this is Salesforce.com. With this, you only pay for what you use both in the features and the number of users. This is ideal for companies who have seasonal variations in the number of sales people being employed. Also you can start out with simply using the very basic parts of the system and as you grow then you can start using and paying for more of the system as and when you require.