Are You Computing in the Clouds? Understanding Cloud Computing

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UOR WEEKS NOW, THERE HAS BEEN TALK IN THE MEDIA ABOUT |CLOUDTM AND OTHER CLOUD SERVICES OFFERED BY AMAZON AND GOOGLE. I recently did a preconference on cloud computing with Dennis Crain, senior research program manager for the Extreme Computing Group at Microsoft Research (yes, I am a Mac person, but I can work with PC people), so I am up to speed on the concept and can share some of the basics on its use in higher education, research, and health care.

What Is Cloud Computing? There are numerous definitions, but, as usual, I like to start with Educause's 7 Things You Should Know: "Cloud computing is the delivery of scalable IT resources over the Internet, as opposed to hosting and operating those resources locally, such as on a college or university network" (2009). Hurwitz, Bloor, Kaufman, and Halper, in Dummies. Tom (201 I), provide an easy-to-understand definition: "Cloud computing is a networking solution in which everything from computing power to computing infrastructure, applications, business processes to personal collaboration--can be delivered to you as a service wherever and whenever you need." The cloud refers to "the set of hardware, networks, storage, services, and interfaces that combine to deliver aspects of computing as a service."

For a more comprehensive view, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as "a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction" (201 I, p. 2). NIST further describes five essential characteristics of cloud computing. I have tried to simplify them as follows:

* On-demand self-service Access the necessary computing services (storage or server time) on demand, without necessarily human interaction with the cloud service provider.

* Broad network access Access cloud services from a variety of Internet-capable devices, such as laptops or smart phones.

* Resource pooling The cloud service provider uses what is called a multi-tenant model in which computing resources are pooled, assigned, and reassigned according to consumer demands. (You may be using computing resources from data centers across the world.)

* Rapid elasticity Consumers can purchase services that are scaled up or down, depending on need. (Although consumers may feel they have unlimited resources, there will always be a limit.)

* Measured service Cloud services usually operate according to a pay-peruse business model that allows their systems to leverage resource use.

THE ADVANTAGES Cloud computing, which is sometimes referred to as utility computing, has several advantages: a) Users tap into this utility, just as we tap into the electrical grid. b)There are cost savings. Information technology (IT) departments can meet user demands without worrying about capital expenses (servers), software licensing, and the labor involved in upgrading and maintaining software, c) Scalability allows for an IT department to provide users with access to services when they need them and use them. (Often IT departments get requests for expensive computational software products, with no way to predict actual usage; the licensing agreement and supporting staff may be under- or overutilized.) d) The metrics of pay as you grow provide valuable data to examine usage, e) A user can access services from multiple devices, anytime and anywhere.

THE SERVICE MODELS To further understand the concept, it is important to know the three different service models.

* laaS (Infrastructure as a Service) An organization or consumer does not need to own servers, hardware, or network capacity to operate the necessary service. A client, such as a university or an individual consumer, would access the infrastructure and pay on a per-access basis. …

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