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What is Cloud Computing? Feb 9, 2009

The year 2009 is expected to have a significant increase in cloud computing.  As a metaphor for the Internet, “the cloud” is a familiar cliche, but when combined with “computing” it can appear more confusing than it really is.

Cloud computing is a service based technology.  It is a savings oriented business model.  What this means is that the services and applications are hosted off line and the end users do not have to worry about the technical details or investment of money.  Essentially, cloud computing is web based software and storage solutions.

There are two main advantages to cloud computing.  The software is stored on the third party’s servers, thus providing users the ability to access systems regardless of their location or device.   It also enables the sharing of resources and costs among a large pool of users.

In a struggling economy movement to “the cloud” is expected as it is a way for businesses to trim operating costs.  I have argued in the past against cloud computing as I strongly believe in keeping things internal and not having to rely on outside third party vendors.  As this movement takes stride be cautious as to how dependent you become as a simple change in the services structure such as a price increase, change in service offering, etc. could greatly impact your business based upon your level of reliance.

The technology analyst and consulting firm, Gartner, lists seven security issues which one should discuss with a cloud-computing vendor:

  1. Privileged user access—inquire about who has specialized access to data and about the hiring and management of such administrators
  2. Regulatory compliance—make sure a vendor is willing to undergo external audits and/or security certifications
  3. Data location—ask if a provider allows for any control over the location of data
  4. Data segregation—make sure that encryption is available at all stages and that these “encryption schemes were designed and tested by experienced professionals”
  5. Recovery—find out what will happen to data in the case of a disaster; do they offer complete restoration and, if so, how long that would take
  6. Investigative Support—inquire as to whether a vendor has the ability to investigate any inappropriate or illegal activity
  7. Long-term viability—ask what will happen to data if the company goes out of business; how will data be returned and in what format

Google Apps is a common example of cloud computing.  It provides common business applications online that are accessed from a web browser, while the software and data are stored on Google servers.  Applications like document sharing, calendars, email, live chat/instant messaging, and so much more.

Other honorable mentions:

Freshbooks – Online Invoicing, Time Tracking, and Expense Service.

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