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Getting on the Cloud

By Judy Penz Sheluk

These days, there’s a whole lot of talk about infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud computing. But what does that mean, and how can someone start the journey to live on the cloud? I decided to find out.
I started my research by looking up the definition of cloud computing. This is what I came up with: Cloud computing is a style of computing whose foundation is the delivery of services, software and processing capacity using private or public networks. The focus of cloud computing is the user experience, and the essence is to decouple the delivery of computing services from the underlying technology.
If you’re super-tech savvy, then you’re probably nodding wisely right about now. If you’re like me, however, you’re probably thinking, “Huh?”
That’s why I called Aldo Gallone, a 22-year veteran in the high-tech industry, and Cloud Leader for IBM Canada.
“Simply put, cloud computing is a once-in-a-generation shift in a computing paradigm,” Gallone told me. “It isn’t just another trend—technology comes and goes—rather, it is a collection of several trends that are converging, i.e. laptop, desktop, Smartphone, all streaming to a centralized environment.
“The underlying economic model is also very compelling, especially to a new generation of users used to these types of computing mechanisms,” Gallone said. “Furthermore, beyond the user interface, the technology behind the cloud remains invisible to the user, making cloud computing incredibly user-friendly. For example, not so long ago, if we liked a certain song on the radio, we’d have to purchase an entire album of music. Today, we can simply download that one song from iTunes.”
Okay, that makes sense. Cloud is sort of a “pay-as-you-go” centralization of computing.
“Exactly,” said Gallone. “Let’s take the example of a professional renovator. Not that many years ago, he’d carry a pager, paper and pen to his appointments. But today, every company, even the smallest renovator, uses e-mail. And cloud computing takes it one step further. It leverages a pooled resources environment that uses virtualization in order for the physical assets to support multiple workloads.
“Getting specific, I can envision a point where, instead of individual renovators or builders each purchasing their own drawing package, there is a community cloud set up to share non-competitive resources; perhaps it’s a benefit offered through their regional, provincial, or national Home Builders’ Association. And within that public cloud is a web-based, community cloud-based designing package available as a pay-as-you-need-it. The data is secure, the software is up-to-date with the latest upgrades, there’s no significant hardware investment on the part of the user, and there’s no need to install anything on a PC.”

Picking the Right Cloud
There are three basic deployment options when it comes to getting on the cloud:
Public Cloud: IT activities / functions are delivered as a service over the Internet; elastic scaling (the ability to provision resources on-demand allows users to elastically expand and contract the resource base available to them based on an as-needed basis); pay-as-you-go.
Private Cloud: IT capabilities are delivered as a service over the Intranet within the enterprise, behind the company’s firewall.
Hybrid Cloud: Internal and external delivery methods integrated.
Going forward, the possibilities for cloud services are endless. New home buyers, for example, might partner with IT or telephone/cable service providers. Companies like Bell or Rogers will soon be providing a consumer cloud. As a homeowner upgrades services, those companies will offer back-up services for the home computer, or allow the homeowner to run automatic security.
Of course, even good clouds might have a storm, and so that also means asking, “What happens if there is a failure?”
“It’s vital that the purchaser understands the elements of a service level agreement,” Gallone said. “What is the guarantee, what are the service hours, how dependable is the provider? You need to balance the price you pay vs. the reliability you expect to receive. Secondary things to consider include ‘How do I share that data?’ or ‘When I start to run this, how can I move (or remove) the data?’”
Gallone also envisions cloud computing providing opportunities to build a smarter planet, a core philosophy of IBM. “Our view is this is really about making buildings, houses, sewage systems, roads smarter. New analytics capabilities from IBM Research analyze the information from a variety of activities within a building (heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, running equipment etc.), as well as factors contributing to the inefficiency in energy consumption. We’re currently in collaboration with McMaster University in such a program.
“But let’s consider an industry-specific example: all new home builders provide a warranty. If the builder could place a small electronic device on certain parts of the foundation or framing— and this is possible—then they could track for faults, like moisture, or mould, or air leakage, or toxicity. Proactively maintaining those issues during the warranty period is not only cost effective, it’s good customer service. Finally, the builder can get the data collected and analyzed to improve upon future construction.”
I guess you could say that when it comes to cloud computing, the sky’s the limit.

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