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Defining the essential characteristics of the cloud: the move to virtualization and big data May 10, 2012

Posted by kirbyr in Cloud Computing.

What is cloud computing? 

Cloud computing is getting a lot of buzz these days, but the concept of the cloud is not well-defined.  My definition of cloud computing is the ability to use a vendor’s hardware and software over the Internet, paying for only the resources used.  This is similar to how an InfoWorld article defines cloud computing: “Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities.” [2] I like the InfoWorld definition as it highlights the benefits of cloud computing: the cloud allows the IT department to perform additional functions.



What are the benefits of cloud computing? 

A key factor in the decision to use a cloud environment is for a company to save money by outsourcing tasks or equipment.  Cloud computing definitely offers companies the opportunity to reduce costs, along with the benefits listed below.  Please refer to the paper Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing for further details. [1]

  • Cloud computing allows for easy scalability, giving access to large amounts of computing resources on demand.
  • No need to purchase physical hardware or invest in machine upgrades.
  • Pay for only the hardware and processing time you need: no downtime.


What are the drawbacks of cloud computing? 

As with any new technology, companies need to be aware of possible risks.  The list below highlights some of the risks associated with using cloud computing vendors.  Each of the below topics is worthy of its own discussion and companies considering a transition to a cloud computing vendor should examine the risks thoroughly.  Refer to the paper Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing for further details. [1]

  • Service availability: a company may have unexpected down time or go out of business.
  • Data confidentiality and security: who can access data and how is it protected from unauthorized users?
  • Data reliability: how can you ensure data is correct and backed up?
  • Legal issues: when client data is stored with a vendor, who owns the information?


Cloud influences: virtualization and big data

I believe cloud computing stems from two recent trends: virtualization and big data.  Let’s look at big data first.  IBM defines three characteristics of big data: volume, velocity, and variety. [3] Cloud computing can help companies manage all three of these aspects.  With the growth in data volume, companies may have a hard time just storing all of the information they collect.  IBM’s concept of velocity in big data is that companies want to analyze their data or run a report quickly.  Using cloud computing to scale up processing power can help.  The idea of variety of data is that you don’t always know how your data will arrive and need to be stored.  Some data will have traditional relational database structure, some will have no structure at all, some data will be text, or video, etc.  Most cloud computing systems can handle most data structures, and how to handle unstructured data is a big concern for leading cloud computing vendors.


A second trend spurring the development of cloud computing technologies is virtualization.  In this case, traditional IT department tasks are being outsourced to the cloud computing vendor.  This relieves the IT department of the need to keep up with the new technologies offered through the cloud computing vendor, such as how to store unstructured data sets.  Another key benefit of virtualization is that company employees can access cloud computing services, and thus, company data and services, from anywhere in the world.


Cloud computing is a new technology concept that is impacting the way companies do business.  Companies can outsource their hardware and processing needs, which saves time and money.  The scalability of cloud computing allows for projects to be completed quickly so results are delivered right away.  Companies can use cloud computing to adapt quickly to the marketplace.  As companies integrate the trends for virtualization and big data into their everyday work processes, cloud computing will become even more prevalent.


[1] http://x-integrate.de/x-in-cms.nsf/id/DE_Von_Regenmachern_und_Wolkenbruechen_-_Impact_2009_Nachlese/$file/abovetheclouds.pdf

[2] http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/what-cloud-computing-really-means-031

[3] http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/



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