Traditionally, most software solutions (e.g. MS Word) and the data used by them (e.g. Word Documents), were stored ‘locally’ - either on your computer, your local network, or both. On the network would be a server (or several) that would house any combination of the software, databases, and files used by the organisation.
With the advent of Google Drive and Office 365, organisations can shed the administrative burden of these physical servers, and the strings attaching staff to offices, because the software, and files, are able to be accessed via the cloud.
The rise of open data has seen many of our larger projects using cloud technology and web services to make information more accessible. For legacy projects however, migrating your product to a cloud hosting platform can provide a number of benefits.
A cloud is a cluster of one or more servers that are connected.
These servers might be sitting above one another in a metal rack inside a data centre, or could be at opposite corners of the globe.
Often these clusters will contain many servers which, joined together, create one powerful computing unit. This cluster will then be divided up again to create ‘virtual machines’ – so having put lots of computers together, we then slice then back up ‘virtually’.
Should one of these physical servers fail or need maintenance, the others can pick up the slack and share the load, so that all these ‘virtual’ servers stay running.
Taking this a stage further - large ‘clouds’ of these virtual servers, using physical machines from different data centres across the UK (or the world) - even if an entire data centre goes offline, the software doesn’t.
And of course the software is available from anywhere, any time.
The cost model also changes – organisations don’t need to buy, lease, or manage physical hardware – these virtual machines can be scaled up or down, depending on usage requirements, so expenditure becomes based on usage, rather than anticipated future need for the life of the agreement.
There are some more complex benefits too – a new ‘VM’ (Virtual Machine) can be spun-up at the click of a button – compared to purchasing, unpacking, installing, configuring, maintaining, (and then disposing of) physical hardware.
Clouds come in a variety of configurations, subject to the requirements and sensitivity of the data being stored on them.
Typically large clusters of servers, sliced up into thousands of virtual machines, and then rented to individuals or organisations.
Leading brands: AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform
Where more sensitive data and/or security is required, an organisation may choose to use a private cloud. In this sense, the physical servers that are clustered, are isolated and used only by the organisation – they do not form part of a public cloud.
Leading brands: VMware, Dell EMC, IBM, Red Hat, Microsoft, OpenStack, HPE
A mixture of both public and private, where sensitive systems and data are provided by the private cloud, while headroom is delivered by using the (more expensive) public cloud. This allows infrastructure to be scaled-up on demand, using the public cloud to handle any overflow, yet a lower cost base can be achieved by using predominantly private hardware. Security is ensured by fragmenting any data pushed to ‘public’ data centres, so no meaningful data can be publicly accessed
Having jumped aboard the 'cloud' bandwagon, some are now abandoning ship, to some degree at least. Why? Rampant and complicated cost growth. They said it would be flexible, but nobody said it was cheaper. The leaders in public cloud have successfully created cult followings of technical evangelists for their brand within IT departments worldwide, creating teams of external 'salespeople', incentivised by free training and cloud certifications.
So the price of this flexibility and support comes at a cost.
This is forcing larger organisations to reconsider their options and rather than just throwing everything into the public cloud; private clouds, and carefully orchestrated hybrid clouds, alongside other solutions that allow pay-on-demand headroom, look set to be the hot topic for this year.
Cloud is complicated, although much is being done to simplify it. More complex than the cloud, are an organisation's highly nuanced drivers for using it, and understanding how to do so effectively and efficiently.
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