What is The Cloud?

Brian St. Marie - Sr. Systems Engineer

Like many people, you've probably seen products and services talking about "the Cloud" for a year or more.  But what is the Cloud?  Most people understand that when they buy a product or service in the Cloud, that means its somewhere "out there" on the internet; somewhere they don't have to worry about it disappearing or going down.  But what makes something a Cloud service?  Does this mean all companies will someday have all their services hosted out on the internet somewhere?  What about companies concerned about security or centralized management?  Is the Cloud not right for them? 

In fact, the concept of the Cloud applies to all types of companies, and many companies are already using Cloud services without even realizing it.  If you've followed our blog, you may have seen Dennis' post on Virtualization some time ago.  Virtualization is a driving technology behind the Cloud.  Virtualization allows software to run without depending on the particulars of hardware; in the industry, we call this "hardware agnostic."  For instance, an email server may be set up with all your employee mailboxes and years of email history.  What happens if that server crashes?  Maybe you can fix it, then restore all your data and rebuild it, but during all that time, your employees will be without their email.  With virtualization, the email server runs independently of the server hardware.  In fact, the entire operating system, data, and configuration information is basically just a file which can be copied and pasted onto a completely different server, without even interrupting service.  What this means is that if server hardware fails, it's literally no more difficult than to copy and paste to get the email server software back up and running on new hardware somewhere else.  And this can be automated so that if the server fails, another copy of the email server is up and running in an instant, so the end user never notices a thing.

This ability to move software around freely is what enables the Cloud to be so robust.  By making services independent of the hardware on which they run, that software can be moved around without the people using the service ever knowing.  This lends itself very well to internet-based services, but cloud computing can also be used internally.  By setting up groups of servers known as server farms, a company can create their own cloud for internal servers, ensuring their software stays up and running regardless of what may happen to any individual hardware servers.  This allows companies to offer more robust services to their user base, ensuring more productive and happy employees.

In addition, cloud computing means you no longer have to be tied to one software server installation for each hardware server.  Virtualization allows more than one software server to run on a single hardware server, sharing the resources between them.  This means companies can easily create new software servers and offer new services to their employees without investing in additional expensive server hardware.  This also saves on server room space and electricity and has allowed many enterprises to drastically scale down their hardware investment through server consolidation.

This also means small companies can create their own Cloud, even if they have only a single server.  By running multiple software servers on a single hardware server, small companies can maximize their return on investment, getting the absolute most out of any server hardware purchase.  And with only two hardware servers, a small company can ensure that even if one of those hardware servers fail, all their software servers can be shifted to run on the working hardware server, ensuring their users are never interrupted.

Whether you are an enterprise consolidating your server hardware, or a small company looking to make virtualization or cloud technologies work for you, Contact Us and Terminal will be glad to help.