BLOGGER: AMNON EKSTEIN
You definitely know that cloud computing is shaping up to be “the next big thing” in computing when Google, Amazon, Sun, IBM, Microsoft with its latest Windows Azure platform and others, are all offering a variety of services based on the concept. Many organizations and potential users are currently evaluating whether it can deliver on its promise and whether it’s a good fit for their environment and needs. But is cloud computing really introducing a different approach and opening the way for new opportunities?
Greg Papadopoulos, Sun Microsystems’ CTO, didn’t think so and a while ago he compared cloud computing to the mainframe era saying: “In some sense, it’s nothing new – the idea that we’re going to build large concentrations of computing, storage, networking and produce them as a service. That’s a great definition of mainframe computing. A bunch of 3270s hooked up as a professionally managed pool of resources.” And although I understand where Greg was coming from, I disagree with his statement because I think that cloud computing now provides options that never existed before.
A good way to realize its value is by comparing it to home utilities. Cloud computing opens the way to purchasing computing resources, hardware and software in a similar way to how we purchase our home’s utilities, such as electricity and gas – based on real usage, with minimal restrictions. So if we need more electricity for air conditioning during the summer or more gas for heating during the winter, we don’t need to re-plan or re-design our home, we just consume as much as we need (as long as we can pay the bill…). Another aspect is how simple it is to add new services or increase existing ones without having to forecast the re-structuring requirements. It could be done with mainframes, but the cost, the dependency on operations and the closed-system architecture make it expensive, complex and time consuming to do. Cloud computing offers high flexibility, simple scalability and the added benefit of more integration options for both large organizations, as well as for private individuals.
Cloud computing is a natural evolution that uses the Internet infrastructure to connect almost everything to anything. It’s completely different from the mainframe’s closed and limited physical world. And yes, cloud computing does enable organizations to create their own virtual closed world, but if they wish, they can also open it to other private and public networks and to any Internet user easily, using the same systems. The shift between all available options can be achieved in a relatively simple way: organizations can choose which part of their systems they want to keep inhouse, to outsource or to assign to managed services providers, and what will be included in the cloud. This level of flexibility of internal and external resources with variety of ways to control it has never existed in the mainframe environment. You could integrate mainframes to external sources, use cluster computing that enables extending the environment, and take advantage of Web-services, service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Enterprise Architecture Integration (EAI), but you may just end up with a cloud where the mainframe is only one of the servers in it (and a very expensive one at that).
By definition, mainframes were designed to provide transactional capabilities, while cloud computing is more loosely coupled and task’ oriented. Unlike mainframes, the cloud computing is based on the wealth of available computing resources in the world. The challenge is to integrate the systems, processes and applications. It’s not a surprise that companies such as Google and Amazon, that built huge computer farms with cloud-oriented infrastructure for their own applications, are in a good position to offer such services to others.
Service providers in the communications industry can benefit from it as well by using it for their own applications and by offering all kind of services that combine communication capabilities with cloud computing applications to their business and private customers, through a range of different communication channels and options. Cloud computing also enables flexible and simple partnerships in order to provide variety of solutions that answer the dynamic of the changing world needs, with a short time to market.
Web 2.0 magazine defined the following six main advantages of cloud computing:
- Reduced cost– Cloud technology is paid for incrementally, saving organizations money.
- Increased storage – Organizations can store more data than on private computer systems (and extend their storage immediately based on real needs).
- Highly automated – IT personnel no longer need to worry about keeping software up to date.
- Flexibility– Cloud computing offers much more flexibility than past computing methods.
- More mobility – Employees can access information wherever they are, rather than having to remain at their desks (and although it’s true that you can also access mainframes remotely, it’s simpler and friendlier with cloud computing).
- Allows IT to shift focus – No longer having to worry about constant server updates and other computing issues, government organizations will be free to concentrate on innovation.
If we compare the openness of cloud computing and the advantages it provides in all the above categories, I believe that cloud computing is here to stay, rather than a passing fad. Although it might not be suitable for every situation at this point and trust and security barriers still need to be overcome, it’s bringing about a fundamental shift that will affect both businesses and private users and will enable flexible distributed computing based on true needs. And no, that’s not something we’ve seen before.