Cloud communications are Internet-based voice and data communications where telecommunications applications, switching and storage are hosted by a third-party outside of the organization using them, and they are accessed over the public Internet. Cloud services is a broad term, referring primarily to data-center-hosted services that are run and accessed over an Internet infrastructure. Until recently, these services have been data-centric, but with the evolution of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol), voice has become part of the cloud phenomenon.
Cloud communications providers deliver voice & data communications applications and services, hosting them on servers that the providers own and maintain, giving their customers access to the “cloud.” Because they only pay for services or applications they use, customers have a more cost-effective, reliable and secure communications environment, without the headaches associated with more conventional PBX system deployment.
Companies can cut costs with cloud communications services without sacrificing features. The success of Google and others as cloud-based providers has demonstrated that a cloud-based platform can be just as effective as a software-based platform, but at a much lower cost. Voice services delivered from the cloud increases the value of hosted telephony, as users can equally well turn to a cloud-based offering instead of relying on a facilities-based service provider for hosted VoIP. This expands their options beyond local or regional carriers.
In the past, businesses have been able to do this for IT services, but not telecom. Cloud communications is attractive because the cloud can now become a platform for voice, data and video. Most hosted services have been built around voice, and are usually referred to as hosted VoIP. The cloud communications environment serves as a platform upon which all these modes can seamlessly work as well as integrate.
There are three trends in enterprise communications pushing users to access the cloud and allowing them to do it from any device they choose, a development traditional IT communications infrastructure was not designed to handle. The first trend is increasingly distributed company operations in branches and home offices, making WANs cumbersome, inefficient and costly. Second, more communications devices need access to enterprise networks – iPhones, printers and VoIP handsets, for example. Third, data centers housing enterprise IT assets and applications are consolidating and are often being located and managed remotely.
Cloud Computing is a form of computing in which all applications, information and resources are managed in a virtual environment. The term cloud computing, specifically the use of the word “cloud”, it meant to represent the nature and structure of cloud computing. Cloud computing involves virtual hosted environments allowing users to connect to the services being hosted over the internet.
Google Apps is a great example of cloud computing as companies to no longer require the need for installed word processing software, in house email servers, multiple IT personnel and many more cost saving advantages. Google Apps allows companies to access all services including email, website hosting, calendar, document editing/creation and much more directly through a web browser. The advantage to using Google Apps is increased productivity, security, lower IT costs and data backup. Microsoft has also entered the cloud computing realm by integrating its current software such as Word and outlook with online storage and easy accessibility.
Many hosting companies and even a few internet retailers are beginning to offer cloud hosting services. Rackspace, an internet hosting company, has begun to offer cloud hosting for clients who wish to have personal cloud applications in an environment controlled by them. Amazon.com is also offering cloud hosting services due to its large infrastructure and internet bandwidth capabilities. Most cloud hosting companies offer easy setup and creation of private cloud hosting with simple user interfaces. Most cloud hosting companies have per usage pricing instead of flat rate pricing. Users simply pay for the amount of processing, bandwidth and storage that they use. This pricing method benefits both cloud hosting companies and end users.
There are three main variations of cloud computing:
1. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): The need for expensive equipment is outsourced. Instead of companies purchasing expensive equipment including servers, hard drives and networking equipment, they would instead be used over the Cloud and hosted by a cloud computing company. The business entity would use the virtual equipment on a cost usage basis.
2. PaaS (Platform as a Service): Applications are run off of cloud servers hosted virtually. A small company selling cloud applications to businesses will use PaaS to “host” the sold cloud applications and have them run off of the cloud servers instead of having them run off of in-house servers. The company selling the applications pays for the services based on a processor/bandwidth basis.
3. SaaS (Software as a Service): Cloud applications are paid for on a per use basis and not sold in bulk licenses. This allows small companies to purchase a la carte licensing for applications they may use infrequently. Instead of purchasing 15 licenses a company can instead only pay when the software is used and removing the limits on how many machines the software can be installed on.
IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service, is currently the most widely used cloud service. IaaS allows small, medium and even large companies to cut costs considerably. Companies can completely remove the need for expensive network equipment, expensive bandwidth to support their network, expensive network storage equipment and much more. A company only pays for what they use from the cloud infrastructure thus eliminating the capital lost due to lack of usage from in house network equipment, bandwidth, etc. As IaaS gains more popularity and more cloud hosting companies emerge, costs can potentially drop even more due to oversupply and increased cloud hosting competition.
PaaS, Platform as a Service, is second to IaaS in terms of popularity and consumer adoption. A small company selling cloud applications and/or cloud services does not have to host the applications but can instead have them hosted elsewhere. Platform as a Service saves the company selling the applications/services as expensive network equipment, bandwidth and the need for additional IT personnel are instead outsourced to a cloud hosting company. This allows cloud application companies and even small developers the ability to enter the cloud application market without the need for considerable startup capital. PaaS has the potential to overtake IaaS in terms of consumer adoption and overall use.
SaaS, Software as a Service, is the least used cloud hosting service. It is a win-win for both consumers and the software companies. Consumers save money as heavily priced software licenses are no longer necessary because consumers are only paying when the software is used. The need to purchase software in bulk is removed and every consumer’s software needs are custom suited based on usage. This is also a win for cloud software companies as it will attract more consumers due to the custom pricing model. Consumers who could not afford the high cost of bulk software licenses will now be able to purchase based directly on their software usage needs. SaaS has the potential to completely revolutionize the software industry and may even curb software piracy.
The customized nature of cloud computing is what makes it such a popular and newly adopted internet technology. It will revolutionize the way that networking and everyday computing is run. It is a great win-win situation for both cloud companies and consumers.
There are also disadvantages to cloud computing, specifically in online storage and client applications. A company which utilizes cloud computing to host its email, document editing, calendars and other applications can be shut down if a cloud hosting company experiences downtime. This specific disadvantage was the case on February 24, 2009, when Google Apps as well as Gmail were down for several hours. The downtime also reiterated that if Google can go down so can any other hosting companies. Confidence in cloud computing may have been hindered after this specific downtime although Google has assured it will not happen again. Google Apps services over 1million business around the world and is the leader in cloud computing applications.
Security is also a potential disadvantage to cloud computing. Companies that are willing to adopt the ability to host their services on the cloud may be reluctant to do so until the security of cloud computing has been heavily demonstrated and thoroughly tested. Large companies may consider the additional costs of in-house network hosting outweigh the potential security risks associated with cloud hosting. A security breach involving a company’s cloud information storage has the potential for disaster. However, hacking and security breaches are rampant for in-house IT hosting such as millions of credit card numbers being stolen as well as detailed customer information. If cloud computing can prove that its security is much better than any in-house hosting this may help it to grow and overtake the percentage of companies that have in-house IT infrastructures.
Cloud computing is still in its infancy and is expected to grow and revolutionize the way of everyday computing. Many theorize that cloud computing will one day take over today’s desktop computing altogether. Until intense applications are developed for use over the cloud, desktop computing will remain the staple of everyday computing. Cloud computing innovation is rapid and as new cloud technologies emerge more people will start to adopt the cloud.
The advantages of cloud computing heavily outweigh the disadvantages. As better cloud computing technologies are developed and redundancy is fine tuned, the disadvantages will slowly become obsolete. As mentioned, cloud computing is in its infancy and new cloud technologies are growing exponentially.