The first question is to define Cloud Computing. Wikipedia has the definition of “Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand…” Looking at the history of computing, computers and computing resources were controlled by a mainframe system. The mainframe included the applications that would be run, storage of the data, and security of the system. Users interfaced with the mainframe using terminals (a monitor and keyboard) but all information resided on the mainframe.
Then along came the personal computer (PC) where we had the ability to install software local to the computer, create, and save documents on one’s PC. This allowed computers to enter into our homes and has allowed us to do more with our computers year after year. We can use the same word processing software found at work on our home computers in order to write documents, etc. Along with this newfound freedom is also the responsibility to upgrade computers to new systems that have more CPU capacity, faster memory, etc. Not to mention responsibility over one’s own files, I think that we have all experienced a PC crash where we have lost some document. The PC/laptop has many advantages such as portability and being able to work at home, on the airplane, in the hotel…etc.
With these advantages also come risks such as lost or stolen equipment, important files can be compromised. In order to lower this risk most corporations’ have installed software onto laptops and computers that make it harder to break in and find data stored on the hard drive, and most importantly, they provide special server space to store documents that need to be backed so that they cannot be lost. It is in this way that cloud computing parallels the client-server model.
Instead of keeping all my important documents on my computer or laptop where I would have to work from that specific computer, I can store my files on a server that is part of the Internet. This now allows me to access my files from anywhere at anytime. Internet file storage is nothing new, and has been around for a while. What is new is the ability to use software via the Internet in order to modify or view our files. A good example would be if I created a document from Microsoft Word and placed it on my Internet storage drive for safekeepings, then later on I found that I needed to modify that file. The old process would be to open the application Microsoft Word and then download the file to my local drive, modify the file, and then place the file back up on the Internet storage drive. The problem arises if I am at a computer that does not have Microsoft Word installed. Now what can I do? Until recently there have not been that many options.
With the advancement of faster computers, faster access times to the Internet and better-built applications one can now logon to a server that has a version of Microsoft Word built for Internet usage, open the Word document, and make all the changes needed. Then we can save the document on the Internet storage drive without the local computing device needing to neither download the file nor have any office software installed. This is cloud computing. The ability to use a device such as the iPad to manipulate our files and documents, even create new documents without the need to have or purchase software that needs to be installed onto the local computing device.
Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made us all aware and familiar with cloud computing. One goes to Facebook, then open another application from there to run a game or something similar… This is cloud computing.
Now that we have a better understanding of cloud computing we can look at how Microsoft is leveraging their development talents in creating cloud computing solutions. Microsoft is offering database (SQL Server), mail (Exchange), Collaboration (Sharepoint), document (Office), and customer relationship management (CRM) though the Internet via the new cloud-computing model.
SQL server is a powerful database that helps businesses to organize their data and be able to retrieve that information quickly and easily. Databases have a large number of possible applications in all of our lives. Being able to offer this as a service for example to smaller businesses to leverage that cannot afford the cost of their own SQL server and more importantly supporting a SQL server is one example of how cloud-computing helps reduce costs to the end user.
Exchange is popular among businesses to manage company email, calendars, meetings, to do list, etc. Due to the cost and technical needs to run this software many smaller companies have not been able to deploy this solution, and offer the advantages of Exchange to help maximize communications within their organization. The new Cloud computing option opens a door once closed to many businesses.
By offering office, solutions on the “cloud” businesses can save money by not having to purchase expensive licenses for office and maintain the office software. Now one can use the software as needed via the Internet and pay for the services used. You add the collaboration options available through web SharePoint and companies that span many offices and locations can now collaborate as a cohesive team.
Another option that Microsoft has developed is a way for an organization to use these cloud-computing tools to establish their own internal could so to speak. Therefore, they can build all of these solutions in a way to reduce overall cost to the organization. This helps to reduce costs and ensures that the software products have the ability to be maintained, thus reducing risks and costs to the organization.
Microsoft is using this technology to help the State of Minnesota and the State of California reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO) on their IT services provided to all agencies. With state agencies and other local agencies using cloud-computing technologies we can be assured that this is the new future of computing.