Exploring the Cloud

cloudLately, the term ‘computing in the cloud’ has been popping up a lot.  Curious to find out what it means, I did some research.  At a basic level, it sounds like many of us are already using applications that leverage data residing in the Cloud.  This is what I found.

What is the Cloud?
The Cloud is still an evolving model, and it is described differently by different sources.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines cloud computing  as  “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services).”  

Cloud computing services are typically managed by an IT group.  These professionals populate the Cloud with data and information to feed different consumer applications.  Consumers like you and I access an application that takes information from the Cloud and presents it to us in an accessible and user-friendly format.  

Still not sure what the Cloud is.  Can you give me an example?
A cloud service is Microsoft’s platform, Google’s platform, Salesforce.com’s platform, BlueLock, GoGrid, or Amazon.  These are not applications.  These cloud services are receptacles for data.  DevCentral provides more examples of cloud services.  

For the average consumer, e-mail, photo sharing, video sharing, online backup, online gaming, social networking, stock trading, etc. are just a few examples of applications that leverage cloud information.  The nice thing about these applications is that users are not tied to a single computer.  As long as you have Internet access, you can access the application from anywhere in the world.

What are the Pros & Cons?

Cloud service is flexible, convenient, and scalable.  In addition, server & equipment upgrades and backup become the vendor’s responsibility. 

However, the downside is no laughing matter.  If the vendor’s systems are compromised – your data may be inaccessible or depending on how much you rely on cloud services, you may not be able to conduct business.  (See Andrew Tillman’s upcoming post for more on this.)

What about security?
Many believe that data is equally susceptible to security issues whether it resides on local drives/servers or in the Cloud.  The security of your information all depends on how diligently security measures are observed.

In an article about cloud security, Gartner advises that customers demand transparency from cloud service vendors.  Ask questions about the vendor’s security policy, system testing & vulnerabilities, and find out about their disaster recovery.  Another point to cover relates to where data is kept.  It is possible that your data may be kept outside your home country.  If that’s the case, make sure that the vendor will still follow your local privacy requirements, and get it in writing.

Attending the 2009 REALTORS® Conference & Expo?
If you’ll be joining 20,000+ real estate professionals in San Diego this November, don’t forget to stop by the Office of the Future in the Clouds: Business Technology & Information Systems Forum on Saturday, November  14 at 1:30pm;  Convention Center, Room 6B.  See you there!

More about the Cloud
Check out the following sites for more information about the Cloud.