News, articles and opinions on the current trends in the IT industry.

What is the cloud and cloud computing?

The term ‘cloud’ has been used by software, hardware, and IT service providers all over the world. It’s new and it’s the only way forward. If you’re not into cloud computing you are old school. It’s a revolution…..or is it?

IT and telecommunications companies are famous for using overhyped language in order to confuse and complicate the market. The language is so complex that it seems too difficult for a well educated business person to understand. One man keen on keeping it simple is Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison. In 2008, he gave a lecture to financial analysts criticising the IT industry for being “more fashion driven than ladies fashion”. Oracle is obviously, a huge global company and Larry Ellison is a man of enormous success. From his shareholders’ perspective he should probably endorse the “fashion” in order to drive more sales. However, the final remarks of his presentation, which are very insightful for the IT industry, state otherwise: “I don’t understand what we (Oracle) would do differently in the light of cloud computing, other than market, you know, change the wording on some of our ads.”

Understanding the cloud and cloud computing – remember the mainframe?

In order to understand what cloud computing is, we should return to the mainframe. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of mainframes.

Still in operation at some large institutions, mainframes are all-encompassing, powerful computers that perform user processing, data management, application serving and data storage in a single system. Almost all mainframes are able to run multiple operating systems, and therefore operate as hosts of a collective of virtual machines. Another major feature of mainframes is that they can add or hot swap capacity without any system interruption. Mainframes can synchronously run in parallel; one in the primary data centre and one in a backup data centre—fully active, partially active, or on standby—in the event of a catastrophe that affects the primary system.

That sounds a lot like cloud computing

Perhaps one of the strongest features of the mainframe is that to some extent it is limited. This limitation is caused by the fact that one company manufactures and supports the entire mainframe system, which means that it is standardised. Even so, an internal team can still perform administration of the system. Furthermore, speed and performance are rarely an issue and with the right investment in redundancy the system is extremely reliable. Its only that the entry cost to a mainframe system is very high and not suitable for small business.

So what is cloud computing in plain English?

There is a relatively simple way to define ‘the cloud’. It is a metaphor for the Internet, and cloud computing is using the Internet to access applications, data or services that are running on remote servers.

The major difference between the mainframe and the new cloud computing market is the separation of infrastructure, middleware, and software layers. In principle, each of these could be provided by completely different organisations.

Cloud computing consists of three main foundations:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) – the primary foundation consisting of the underlying hardware.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) – the second foundation that includes the operating system and database software.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – the final foundation that provides the applications to the end users.

Is cloud computing just one giant, flexible mainframe with marketing terminology?