Cloud Computing, What is it?

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One of the biggest things to hit the technological world since the computer itself has to be the cloud. Cloud computing – an umbrella term for a wide range of online services – is an attractive proposition for SMBs seeking to make the most of the technology available today at lower costs and lower risk. As the price of storage and bandwidth continues to drop fast, Cloud-based services are becoming more and more attractive to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) which are seeking to reduce licensing costs, avoid recruiting IT staff and focus fully on their core responsibility – growing the business. Starting out as a near mythical concept that had a dreamlike quality, computing using the cloud is transforming everything from
software companies to computer users at home. Every sector from Wall Street to the Web has been affected by the changes in the technological world. Some of the changes in 2012 include the growing rate of investing in cloud services, Microsoft's application of the cloud for Office 365 and the direct influence of the cloud on home computer users.

Changing the Way Home Users Compute:

From providing online backup to allowing users to print from anywhere, cloud computing has revolutionized the way computer users operate. Other services users now have thanks to the cloud include:
  • Online unlimited music, photograph and video storage with access even if a computer crashes
  • Optimized Internet shopping even during the busiest shopping days
  • Connectivity via the cloud; no more syncing via USB between email, smart phone, computer and tablet
In many regards it's the great equalizer for technical competitive advantage as it takes advantage of a market which is quickly turning technology, which previously was only available to enterprise into a commodity that anyone can purchase and leverage.

Small enterprise to large enterprise transition

Cloud computing is helping SMBs to compete against bigger, more established companies. No large upfront investments in hardware or software are needed, and companies can be up and running quickly without being dragged into long implementation projects. By utilizing the cloud SMBs are allowed similar capabilities as enterprises in order to implement big business strategies, processes, and achieve big business goals. Here are the following ways SMBs can achieve enterprise standards by implementing cloud solutions. Facebook is a prime example. 
  • Minimize costs
  • Accomplish more in less time
  • Create stronger business continuity plans
Cloud computing delivers many functions and capabilities to SMBs that are already known to big businesses and because of that the possibilities are endless. Since cloud computing doesn't require the use of physical hardware or systems in your building, costs are cut by being able to streamline business processes. According to research conducted by Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, SMBs that used cloud services over the past three years are five times more likely to have decreased the amount of budget devoted to managing security.

Time is always of the essence no matter what size your business is or how many daily tasks need to be accomplished. Microsoft's research also concluded that 52% of SMBs using the cloud said they were able to add new services and products more quickly in comparison to those who don't use the cloud. Cloud services also offer a better means of communication and collaboration among employees as well as customers. Since cloud services are always readily available, SMBs will be able to increase productivity by accomplishing more with business processes and enjoy more efficiency through already implemented business strategies. The Cloud doesn't just include servers and hardware, Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) is growing tremendously. Critical business processes can be quickly, securely and efficiently enhanced through cloud services such as project management, accounting programs and customer relationship management software.
 
"Companies only pay for what they use and since all upgrades are automatic and seamless, companies derive continued value over time without massive maintenance costs," -- Dr. Steve Garnett, chairman, Salesforce.com.

Think of the situation of a smaller company going head to head with a large competitor. If the larger company would mention how large, secure and redundant their infrastructure was, it would most likely eliminate the smaller provider. But now, using an IaaS managed provider a smaller company can prove that they are as scalable, secure and redundant as their large competitor and pay for these advantages as a utility, not by investing in large upfront capital infrastructure costs.

Cloud insurance

"If you're worried about security, I would ask: Do you keep your money under your mattress? We keep our money in banks because it's safer, and not just physically. A lot of the safety comes from the idea that the bank deposits are insured." - Alexander Pasik, CIO at the IEEE, comparing cloud service providers to banks.

Cloud insurance is an approach to risk management in which a promise of financial compensation is made for specific potential failures on the part of a cloud computing service provider. The insurance may be included as part of a service level agreement (SLA) with the provider or it may be purchase separately through a third-party insurance company who works with the provider.

One of the major reasons traditional IT shops are unwilling to switch to cloud services is the risk associated with security breaches and outages that result in lost business or harm to a company's reputation. Some public cloud providers offer remuneration for time lost when a system is down, but not for the business that is lost while the cloud service is unavailable. A cloud insurance policy would cover the loss of potential business in the event of downtime.
 
Another approach to cloud insurance involves data backup and not financial remuneration. In such a scenario a third-party service provider periodically takes snapshots of the provider's cloud environment, including data and applications. This extra backup "insurance" is intended to assure potential customers that their data is safe and can never be lost. This type of insurance seems to appeal to customers who use the cloud for backing up data that is not sensitive but is still valuable, such as photographs and video.
 
For instance, 'CloudInsure' is a cloud insurance platform designed to specifically address emerging liabilities within the cloud environment, offering the underwriting strategy and critical evaluation needed to support full enterprise adoption to the cloud. These cloud insurance platforms / providers assess the different risk landscapes across cloud service providers. The underwriting result is completely unique to the enterprise in terms of their data risk profile, provider, and choice of cloud environment: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS).

Big data analytics and insights:
 
Big data, as it sounds, is lots and lots of data—inside your business, on the Internet, in the news. It's information you want to be able to harness, categorize and integrate into your decision-making process. And that's where cloud computing comes in. You can use the cloud as receptors for all of that data, whether that's your own cloud, a private cloud or with a cloud provider
Big data is a collection of data sets that are so big that it is hard to collect, analyze, visualize, and process using regular software such are relational database management systems. Moreover, this data is typically unstructured, in the form of web logs, videos, speech, photographs, e-mails, Tweets, and others. A recent study indicates that unstructured data account for at least 80% of the world's data. This means that many companies today are making mission critical decisions with only 20% of the data they have, the 20% of data that is structured and stored in relational databases. Now, with cloud computing, it is possible to manage this vast amount of data, structured and unstructured. When we talk about big data, we not only refer to existing data that have been collected for years. We also talk about huge amounts of data being generated because of social media, mobile devices, sensors, and other technologies.
The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future. Big Data is generated by a number of sources, including social network and media, mobile devices, Internet devices, Internet transactions, network devices and sensors etc.

Traditionally, data processing for analytic purposes followed a fairly static blueprint. Namely, through the regular course of business enterprises create modest amounts of structured data with stable data models via enterprise applications like CRM, ERP and financial systems. Data integration tools are used to extract, transform and load the data from enterprise applications and transactional databases to a staging area where data quality and data normalization (hopefully) occur and the data is modeled into neat rows and tables. The modeled, cleansed data is then loaded into an enterprise data warehouse. This routine usually occurs on a scheduled basis – usually daily or weekly, sometimes more frequently. From there, data warehouse administrators create and schedule regular reports to run against normalized data stored in the warehouse, which are distributed to the business.

There are number of approaches to processing and analyzing Big Data, but most have some common characteristics. Namely, they take advantage of commodity hardware to enable scale-out, parallel processing techniques; employ non-relational data storage capabilities in order to process unstructured and semi-structured data; and apply advanced analytics and data visualization technology to Big Data to convey insights to end-users.

In the era of cloud computing, Big Data is being handled by new and innovatively advanced technologies like Hadoop, Hive, Pig, HBase, Flume, HCatalog, BigTop, NoSQL, Cassandra etc. Advanced analytics based on big data is the art of putting all these fragmented and often disconnected pieces together and generate actionable insights for enterprises.

There are several new technologies helping us make sense of big data quickly and efficiently, including NoSQL databases, Hadoop and MapReduce. Industry experts identify the four dimensions of data analytics:
  • Volume - taking raw big data and making it serve a purpose
  • Velocity - reacting quickly to the information gathered from data
  • Variety - using all the different types of structured and unstructured data we have effectively
  • Veracity - assuring the data we have is trustworthy
Big data analytics can be done with the software tools commonly used as part of advanced analytics disciplines such as predictive analytics and data mining. But the unstructured data sources used for big data analytics may not fit in traditional data warehouses. Furthermore, traditional data warehouses may not be able to handle the processing demands posed by big data. As a result, a new class of big data technology has emerged and is being used in many big data analytics environments. The technologies associated with big data analytics include NoSQL databases, Hadoop and MapReduce. These technologies form the core of an open source software framework that supports the processing of large data sets across clustered systems

Death of underlying hardware:

Once the organization adapted the Cloud Computing solution ( IaaS / PaaS / SaaS ) , it no longer required to maintain the skillful technical people to deal with hardware related issues and OS Build operations but they still need resources to perform OS / Network administration and to customize cloud resources to meet the organization requirements. Once they start using the cloud resources; they don't have any control over the hardware they are using; only the services they get are important. This way, organizations have no control over the hardware whether the infrastructure they provided is AMD or Intel or Mercury or any other third hardware vendor. All they need is computing power. So, virtually, with the increasing omnipresence of cloud, the underlying hardware comes to death.

Rebirth of developers

Just as cloud computing is a game-changer for many companies; it is also changing the nature of jobs – not only within the information technology department, but in other parts of the enterprise as well. There shall be up-down change in the role of developers in the companies with rapid adoption of the cloud. With the shift to cloud, there is growing demand for professionals and managers that are more focused on business development than they are in application development. There will be greater opportunities for enterprise architects, and some offshoots will include cloud architects, cloud capacity planners, cloud service managers and business solutions consultants. Jobs being created may not always bear the term "cloud" in their titles, but cloud will form the core of their job descriptions. The importance and responsibilities of managers shall also decline and most important role shall be developing cloud applications. This indicates that the managers shall have two options: learn to code for cloud or make way for coders.

Security parameter

The cloud model enables the return of effective control and professional operation over IT resources, processing and information. By virtue of the scale of the public cloud, tenants and users can achieve better security because the provider's investment in achieving better security costs less per consumer. A private cloud provides significant security advantages for the same reasons. There are caveats, however: You won't get the benefit without investment, and not every model is appropriate for all organizations. Regardless of which services delivery model or deployment model you choose, you will transfer some degree of control to the cloud provider. This is completely reasonable if control is managed in a manner and at a cost that meets your needs.

Businesses are turning to the cloud to help improve productivity, but security concerns remain and implementation is not keeping pace with adoption. The more cloud infrastructure is controlled by the enterprise, the more the responsibility falls to the organization to provide security. For example, with an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud the service provider is responsible for securing the underlying hardware, but businesses are expected to secure their virtual infrastructure and their applications and data built on top of it. This can be achieved with VM security that extends to cloud environments with integrated file and network level protection. But as cloud service providers offer more of the underlying platforms and applications, such as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS), they take on more of the responsibility for security.

"The focus on reduced cost and faster deployment may be sufficient for cloud providers now, but as organizations reach the point where increasingly sensitive data and applications are all that remains to migrate to the cloud, they will quickly reach an impasse," - Mike Denning, general manager, Security, CA Technologies.

If the risk of breach outweighs potential cost savings and agility, we may reach a point of 'cloud stall'--where cloud adoption slows or stops until organizations believe cloud security is as good as or better than enterprise security.

New 'threats' also emerge in the cloud computing. Organizations continue to embrace the advantages of flexibility, scalability, and management provided by cloud computing platforms and services, and often considers security one of their top concerns in cloud environments. One of the most serious challenges, not only to cloud computing, but to data security in general, is the insider threat—a threat well known to security professionals.

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