What is Cloud Computing?

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In recent years, IT have been undergoing a major paradigm shift. To fully grasp the significance of such an event, let’s see the exact definition of this term.  According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a paradigm shift is “a great and important change in the way something is done or thought about”.  And exactly this is what cloud computing means: a huge change in the way IT infrastructures are done and thought about. Essentially, we are shifting from a traditional server-centric infrastructure to a more service-centric one.  Changes of such importance don’t occur very often, even in this fast moving industry.

Of course, cloud computing has many definitions and many people still find it just a buzzword. However, by observing the real-world benefits the advance of cloud computing has brought about, it is possible to nail down the most fundamental characteristics of this technology:

Virtualization

Virtualization is not in itself cloud computing, but one of its most fundamental components. This technology makes many of the advantages provided by the cloud possible. Reducing hardware costs by virtualizing physical servers is only one small portion and I think it is not that significant at all. In order to capitalize on some of the real benefits cloud computing offers, like high availability and fault tolerance, you need clusters, redundant storage and networking equipment. That still means a lot of hardware.

High availability and fault tolerance

These two are tightly connected with each other.  If a service cannot tolerate hardware failure for instance, it won’t be highly available. We all hate when a service is down for even a minute, even if we don’t have any mission critical application running on it right? By virtualizing workloads on a cluster of hypervisor hosts and storing data on a redundant storage solution, you can effectively protect your service from hardware failure. A proper backup solution for your VMs can shield you from failures related to software, administration errors and natural disasters. A good example for all of this is Hyper-V Replica, Storage Spaces and Scale-out File Server cluster.

Agility and scalability

The intensity of demand for a service may significantly vary during a single day or longer time periods. Being able to quickly fire up virtual servers in times when demand is high is a great way of load balancing.  However, agility and scalability is even more important. For instance, when you need to test or troubleshoot something or you have to satisfy any urgent business need as quickly as possible, the ability of rapid, mass deployment of virtual machines can keep you ahead of your competition.

Advanced security and reliability

Separating services by using a server only for one purpose is a huge security and reliability advantage  and virtualization makes it easier and more affordable than ever. It is not only about using fewer physical servers, since licensing can be an even more important aspect. For instance, one Windows Server 2012 Datacenter license allows you to run as many virtual machines as a two-processor Hyper-V host can support. Separation is also very important for ensuring high availability: it makes sure that the failure or corruption of a single server or service won’t affect a greater portion of your infrastructure.

Now that we have taken a brief look at these characteristics, it is easier to see why “The Cloud” is not only a hype destined to fade away, but a whole paradigm shift that defines the future of IT for a long time to come. The service-centric nature of cloud computing is truly reflected by the growing number of Something as a Service solutions. And this is the main point: virtualizing servers in order to save money on hardware is not a different way of doing or thinking about IT. It is only a cost efficient way of doing the same old thing. Cloud computing begins, when your main concern is providing highly available, fault tolerant, agile, scalable, more secure and reliable services, all at the same time. It may be cheaper or it may not be cheaper, but this is not the defining factor.

Author

Istvan Szarka

techrex@outlook.com -- Windows server infrastructure enthusiast

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