Demystifying the Cloud: Part 2 of 2

July 10, 2012

By Joe Kralicky, Senior Software Engineer

Continued from last week’s introductory post about cloud computing…

Q: As a professional, how can the cloud change the way my company does business?

A: Since cloud and elastic computing provides the incredible ability to instantly scale, it makes sense for companies that have web sites or services that need to handle intermittent heavy spikes in traffic. Creating an in-house infrastructure that can handle the worst case traffic patterns can be a difficult financial burden. You could spend tens of thousands of dollars on capital equipment, environmental equipment, data services, maintenance, etc., to keep your web site responsive during peak times of the month, even though the peak might end up only being less than one percent of your uptime. Move your public facing operations to the cloud in cases like this.

It’s inexpensive, too. Compared to developing an in-house infrastructure, cloud computing allows you to pay monthly for the storage and compute time you actually utilize. Most cloud computing fees also include costs of hardware, electricity, network connectivity, OS licenses, and maintenance.

Q: What types of applications can run in the cloud?

A: There’s no magic in running compute services in the cloud – we are starting up virtual machines that run Linux and Windows, and we access them using services such as secure shell (ssh) and Windows Remote Desktop. This is not unlike the way we access machines that sit in our in-house datacenter. Technically, we can run most anything in the cloud that we can run locally, but this doesn’t mean we should. You wouldn’t want to host your file server in the cloud if your employees need instant and fast access to files throughout the day. You could however, store your file server backups to cloud storage; when you use a popular remote backup service such as Mozy, you are doing just that. Many “internet backup” companies are using the cloud as their storage platform, eliminating hefty capital expenditures and passing those savings on to the consumer.

The cloud isn’t just for hosting websites or backing up your files. If your company does a lot of batch processing or number crunching, which requires a lot of compute power for short periods of time (measurable hours), then cloud computing is for you. You can provision a large number of VMs, deploy your applications and data, process it, store your output, and then shut the VMs down when you’re done. This can usually get you to your output much quicker and more cost effectively than standing up your own in-house grid computing platform.

In the medical field especially, data reliability and security are paramount. Important features to look for when choosing a provider are:

  • Service level agreement: Look for at least 99.9% uptime
  • Support: 24x7x365 is important
  • Data Backup: replication to a secondary data center increases reliability
  • Power Backup: Battery backup and generators with adequate fuel supply can keep your systems running for weeks during times of natural, or other unforeseen disasters.
  • Certifications: Many data centers that have achieved various certifications, such as ISO 27001 and comply with regulations such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Look for these and other certifications when choosing your cloud computing services provider.