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Cloud computing in the real world

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What is the cloud, really? Or more properly, what is running in the cloud? And what makes the cloud so cloudy? Despite what you may think, one thing is certain—cloud will likely have a different meaning and value to everyone.

IT providers want a cloud that has the ability to elastically scale resources and maintain high quality of services. Users expect the cloud to allow access anywhere to applications through a simplified user interface. IT Analysts hope the cloud will have the ability to elastically scale resources at significantly lower incremental management costs. Financial analysts look forward to rapid time to market for new services, allowing them access to applications through a simplified user interface from anywhere.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers this definition for cloud computing: Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics: On-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service.  You might ask “what’s in it for me?” How can these cloud characteristics help my business? Can I build all my applications in the cloud?  The answer to these questions is: it depends.

Here is a list of use cases which can best take advantage of cloud characteristics.

  1. Virtual desktop Infrastructure (VDI) for remote locations

Your company might have remote locations that have limited on-site support to deploy workstations and/or limited infrastructure to maintain, deploy and connect to a central office. Your company is looking to expand to a new geography and requires a standard desktop environment for security or consistency of a managed image. Deploy dedicated management and public cloud servers to create virtual desktops and workstations with standardized configurations and images for employees worldwide.

VDI reduces support costs by providing a quick and cost effective solution to expand your footprint to non-core markets. VDI’s increased security over IP can also be leveraged when you have the need to deploy nonstandard desktops. The cloud-on-demand model will pay for itself as your company expands.

This model of a hosted desktop in cloud solution provides these benefits:

    • Standardization – For predictability in scenarios such as demos and training
    • Flexibility and cost savings – Easily tailor desktops for different audiences while still allowing personalization options and access from any location on any device
    • Cost savings – An on-demand cost model that provides additional ROI as a hosted solution
  1. Cost effective Disaster Recovery (DR)

Your company may have a business application that is deemed non-critical but is still important and may have an unknown cost implication to the business. This is typically a non-core application, where implementing DR has been examined, but due to cost constraints never undertaken. The ability to quickly replicate virtual machine images across different regions creates the possibility for your company to maintain very low-cost contingency infrastructures. If something goes wrong with the main site—a hardware failure, network connectivity problems, even software crashes—new instances of the application servers can be spun up in alternative locations, minimizing application downtime.

  1. Server hardware refresh

Your company may need to refresh part of the infrastructure to address outdated and/or unsupported hardware and operating system images. A public cloud solution is a cost effective way to address hardware refresh initiatives. It eliminates capital expenditure needs in the refresh initiative and transfers the hardware cost into an operational expenditure. It also allows for greater flexibility in migration activities as a new server image can be up and running in a few hours.

  1. Application development outsourcing

Your company may want to outsource the application development to a third party (India, China) but there are concerns about giving the developers access directly to the internal network. By using a cloud to host the application development environment, your company can easily control access to the development environment while eliminating security risks.  At the same time, cloud eliminates the capital expenditure (for the infrastructure), and allows for easier and faster server builds and/or rebuilds as part of the application development life cycle.

  1. Application testing

Your company might have applications that require functional and non-functional testing to be done in a very short period of time but does not have budget to build a dedicated testing environment. By creating virtual machine images that simulate production in a separate environment in a cloud, the developers can quickly start up a test machine, deploy their projects in a cloud, and run “live” tests.  This also eliminates the need to run virtual machines on their own PC, or even in the corporate data center. Because the testers don’t need to set up these testing environments all of the time and only need to bring these servers online for the actual testing, your company will realize huge operational savings.

  1. Burst to the cloud

Your company may have applications that show seasonal traffic patterns. Traffic is steady for weeks or months, then experiences a spike. That spike may be due to a launch of a new product or service, a new marketing or advertising campaign or sudden user interest.  For example, online shopping websites experience congestion during the holiday buying season. Inevitably your company will need more servers and computing power to handle this spike.

With traditional servers, your company would need to buy enough servers that are large enough to support peak load.  Your company would also have to plan in advance in order to have those servers online and integrated into the web infrastructure. With cloud computing, if you already have spin up scripts for your server types, you can bring additional computing power online quickly with only a few commands.  Furthermore, your company can define rules to automatically spin up new servers when traffic spikes.  Your business can avoid the initial investment to build an oversize infrastructure for these traffic spikes.

If you are interested in discussing other use cases or would like to share your story, please connect with me on Twitter.

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