There is a lot of talk around about Cloud Computing, but very little talk about what Cloud Computing is. I know I’ve heard people talk about it as all kinds of things, some like a cloud service are right and some like grid computing are wrong.

The term “Cloud” has been used to generically define the internet for many years now. For example, “… then we will deliver the information out to the cloud where it will then be picked up by the subscribers.” But when we add the word “Computing” things at first seem to become more specific, but quickly it becomes apparent that this can be an even fuzzier term. So though cloud computing is a rather broad concept, there are definitely some thing that cloud computing is, and some things it is not.

Why Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has come about as a response to companies needing to increase their IT capacity and capabilities quickly, easily and without having to make huge investments in hardware, staff, and training. This is fantastic for small to medium sized businesses who are looking to outsource most of their IT needs. It can also be great for large companies who are reaching the peak of their resources to increase their capacity without having to build new or larger data centers.

Cloud Computing is not Grid Computing

One thing Cloud Computing is not is it is not the same as Grid Computing. Grid computing is primarily for heavy computational needs. In order to evaluate information from say a large data pool that requires a large amount of processing time the information can be split out to many different computers running the application and they separately process the information and send it back to a main coordinating set of computers to either store, or redistribute the results for further processing. One of the largest examples of this is the Seti@home Grid Computing project by Berkeley University that analyzes radio telescope data that sends data to personal computers around the world for scanning to look for signs of intelligent life outside of Earth.

Examples of Cloud Services

Cloud computing is more focused on services called a cloud service. These cloud services are subscription or pay per use services offered in real time over the internet extending an IT’s capacity and capabilities. Here are a few common types of cloud services

1- SaaS (Software as a Service) is an application run through a browser for many customers to use. For the customer this means they have easy access to the application at a reasonable monthly/annual charge for use saving them on their upfront investment costs for servers, software licensing, and IT support. Web Field Service Trakker is an example of this type of application. Allowing an immediate low cost SaaS cloud service application for dispatching, scheduling, CRM, inventory control and invoicing.

2- Utility Computing is usually used for non-mission-critical needs such as data storage. One obvious example would be using such a cloud service to remotely backup company data to.

3- Web Services are services available to application developers to enable them to create applications that will contact over the internet to a web server and request information such as the services offered by FastTrakker where the FastTrakker web service can return information about who visited your website and what pages they looked at as well as tracking outgoing emails to see if they were read and emails were clicked on.

Hopefully this helps you start to get an understanding of what Cloud Computing is and what a Cloud Service is, so that the next time you are in a meeting and it comes up you will know if the person presenting actually knows what they are talking about and you can participate, or if they are just incorrectly using a buzz word.

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