Nowadays the Cloud doesn't really refer to anything physical in particular. It is not what BT used to refer to as a cloud when they were actually talking about MPLS. The cloud is now a reference to a suitably uncertain and cloudy concept. The actual product that most companies push using the 'cloud' terminology is a collection of different facilities brought together to provide a service.
These facilities usually include:
- Security in the shape of a site somewhere that is fenced off and protected by 24 hour staff and various access systems
- Administration in the shape of automated systems that monitor temperature, electrical load and external power supply
- Continuity in the form of multiple internet providers and diesel generators and battery backup. the batteries last until the diesel system comes online to keep all of the systems up and running.
- Protection whereby the systems are protected by state-of-the-art fire systems and strengthened buildings to protect against external attack
- Support provided by experienced staff onsite and by 2nd and 3rd line developers in an office somewhere else that may or may not work 24x7
- A back-end set of systems to provide a service to the customer such as databases or email etc.
- A front-end interface for the customers to log onto and use
- An off-site backup system or mirrored (identical running copy) of the system and all of the data so that any disaster can be overcome by bringing the other copy online.
With all of the above the cloud becomes more than a computer at another location - it becomes a service which is extremely useful both to the end user and the provider. Mostly because it enables the provider to increase profits and the user to save money. This is because of a few simple reasons:
- All of the providers servers and systems are in one place and so the site can be optimised to provide a service extremely efficiently
- All of the connectivity and air-con etc. is at one site and so enables a single contract to be drawn up with the air-con providers that will be good value to the cloud providers.
- The staff are onsite with all of the equipment that they support and so there are no travel costs to and from customer sites.
- The system is set-up exactly as the cloud provider is expecting and so there is no time lag spent trying to unravel customer set-ups
- No external forces are able to damage or interrupt services and so many of the issues which would normally plague customers are avoided.
- Most of the support services traditionally provided by local IT firms are now provided directly by the cloud provider and so the cloud provider can keep a larger share of the profits.
- All customers connect using the same security rules so these rules can be monitored and optimised by a large team and made very efficient and updated regularly - this reduces issues due to security breaches and user connectivity.
With all of the above taken into account we can see how the cloud (which is essentially HaaS, PaaS and SaaS all rolled into one) has become the sensible choice for the majority of companies large and small.
The added fact that all services are now available on the internet gives much more scope for portability and other forms of interaction which increases productivity for all concerned.
So the cloud is a bit confusing - because it is a misty explanation for a great many services that, as users, we really don't need to know about. Perhaps 'the cloud' really is the correct term...