How to Use Cloud Computing For Your Business

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a style of computing that has gained momentum and been increasingly talked about  in the last couple of years but is something we have been using since the earliest days of the internet.

The central tenant of cloud computing is that you do not need to go through the time and expense of having lots of your own servers within your company, you can simply use the servers provided by specialist companies. This can be especially important for small and medium sized companies that do not have the resources to build their own server farm which can cope with spikes of traffic (did you know that it is estimated that Google operate a million servers?).

Examples of Cloud Implementation

Many of the things your company can do with Cloud technology resemble things you could do with your own servers but doing so becomes more accessible to your business.

E-mail

E-mail is an example of a service which is in the cloud. Our mail goes to a central server which we can connect to from anywhere using common protocols to receive our mail. The mail provider can also provide us with additional services such as anti-virus.

Scalable Websites

Many start-up sites are underwhelmed by the number of visitors they receive rather than being overwhelmed but if your new site is something that users find astonishing then the last thing you want to welcome them with is a crippling slow server. Hosting your site in the server farm of a cloud provider means that when zillions of eager visitors descend on your site it will be able to cope with the demand.

Social Gaming

Companies that are creating a presence in virtual worlds by using technology such as OS Grid are choosing to host their regions in the cloud because having server resources on tap is a very good way of coping with the boom and bust nature of visitors to their regions for events.

Online Storage

By storing your documents online rather than on a specific computer in the office or at home it is possible to connect to your documents wherever you are. The very nature of this approach can also mean that your documents are backed up for you. This is an appealing concept but requires care to ensure that your documents are securely stored, that you will always have access to the provider and that you are not breaking privacy legislation by allowing another company (often located in a different country) to store personal data. In my opinion these are rather large obstacles.

Which Cloud?

As we can see different companies are using the cloud to meet very different requirements. Although it is often referred to as the Cloud it would seem that different companies use different types of cloud depending on their requirements.

There are three main types of service that providers can offer in the “Cloud Stack”:
1. Infrastructure (this includes Data) e.g. Amazon Web Services
2. Platform  e.g. Microsoft Azure
3. Software e.g. Google Apps, Salesforce

Cloud providers differ with some being more costly than others for storage space, processing and bandwidth. More importantly different cloud solutions provide different functionality, for example Microsoft’s Azure platform might be a good fit for hosting a SQL Server database where the Google Apps software would not (and contrarily Azure would not allow you to share calendars as easily as Google Apps would).

I have spent a great deal of time comparing the benefits of each cloud type and in the end opted to roll our own cloud. We have two main cloud requirements which are to offload processor intensive vessel tracking data crunching and to provide contingency should the servers at our data centre fail. The best fit for this seemed to be to continue to use familiar products such as IIS and SQL Server by setting up offsite virtual servers at Fasthosts (some 340 miles from our data centre).

It turned out that having our own additional servers is cheaper than using the Cloud providers and it also has the major benefit that we do not have to get up to speed with fresh technology. As more vessels are tracked we can just add more servers to share the load. It is also my view that it is safer to avoid getting locked into a propriety system that can change their price structure and how they operate at a moment’s notice.

So there we have it. Choose to cloud or not to cloud? Or go for something inbetween.

Mike Poole is a director at Yachting Limited which runs a range of sailing websites as well as developing sites for large organisations such as Microsoft, the BBC and the Scottish Government.

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