Monday, April 19, 2010

Computing in the Clouds

Cloud computing. This has been as hot of a topic as eggs on pavement in the Texas' Summer heat. Well, maybe not that hot, but it's been a term that so many people have thrown around in today's business, but many people may not fully understand it and why it is important to know. The purpose of this post is to give everyone a briefing over cloud computing and why it matters.

Who coined the phrase "Cloud Computing"? While there is no definite owner, I did come across this interesting blog post by
John Willis. It's a quick read, and thank you John!

Here's a quick intro to Cloud Computing 101 courtesy of my work colleagues, Mike Pinch and Patrick Helmes:

Cloud computing could be one of the largest revolutions in the history of the Information Technology industry. While there are many benefits, the potential to introduce risk is high unless risks are assessed and mitigated before moving into the "cloud." As accountants, auditors, aspiring accountants, and students, understanding cloud computing and the associated risks that come along with it will be the key to making the move to cloud computing successful and secure.

The “cloud” is a term (used by IT) from the telecom industry during the 1990s and is still a concept/idea rather than an exact science. In theory, cloud computing basically means the mass centralization of computing resources. Once centralized, a mass amount of information, processing, and software can be made available by tapping into this so-called cloud. Cloud computing is a broad term, and is still in its early stages of its development, but there are three cloud computing services in use today: infrastructure, platform, and software.

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is likely to be used by businesses. IaaS allows businesses or users to create their own virtual data centers, including servers and firewalls, on-demand. For example, these virtual data centers would be housed in clouds such as Amazon.

Platform as a service (PaaS) is similar in concept, except, rather than creating your own virtual data center, you are provided a standard technical platform and toolset to use and can upload your applications into the cloud to run on this platform. The key difference between IaaS and PaaS is that IaaS requires you to build, deploy and manage your virtual hardware remotely, while PaaS only requires that you code your applications to run in the provided environment. An example of this is Google’s App Engine.

Software as a service (SaaS) takes it one step further and allows individuals to use applications that have been developed and deployed on the Web. SaaS examples include Google Apps package of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. These three models of cloud computing are likely to appeal to distinct groups of users:
  • IaaS will appeal to businesses looking for complete control over data;
  • PaaS appeals to independent developers and Web designers; and
  • SaaS will generally appeal to home users or business users looking for low-cost alternatives to traditional software.
I hope that this posting creates a deep interest in this topic. For more on this topic, please register for our conference on June 25, 2010 in Austin, TX.

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