October 27, 2009

Cloud Computing: Revolutionizing the Way People Access Hosted Services

This is the first of several entries that will address the topic of "cloud computing." According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "Cloud computing is 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) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

In other words, cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services, over the Internet and the name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that is often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams. Hosted services include software (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation slides, etc.) that you would have ordinarily purchased a hard-copy or downloaded through an online vendor. From across a variety of sectors including government, nonprofit, academic, and the private sector, cloud computing will revolutionize the way people access software and Internet services.

Even the U.S. government is engaging in the benefits of cloud computing. On September 15, 2009, the Obama Administration "announced the launch of the General Services Administration's (GSA) cloud storefront Apps.gov. This online storefront enhances how the government leverages technology by enabling federal agencies to acquire and purchase cloud computing services in an efficient, effective manner." Furthermore, according to GSA's press release, "The new Apps.gov, a one-stop shop to purchase cloud computing services, is part of the government's push to improve the cost-effectiveness of IT services and sustainability of IT infrastructure. It is one element of a multi-pronged cloud computing program that is addressing not only acquisition, but also related policy, security, training, coordination, architecture and standards....Apps.gov will also offer free social media and web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs to federal agencies."

Here is a brief list of the features and benefits of cloud computing as provided by Apps.gov:
  • Significant Cost Reduction: Cloud computing is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT services, eliminating upfront capital expenditures and dramatically reducing administrative burden on IT resources;
  • Increased Flexibility: Cloud computing provides on-demand computing across technologies, business solutions and large ecosystems of providers, reducing time to implement new solutions from months to days;
  • Access anywhere: You are no longer tethered to a single computer or network. You can change computers or move to portable devices, and your existing applications and documents follow you through the cloud;
  • Elastic scalability and pay-as-you-go: Add and subtract capacity as your needs change. Pay for only what you use;
  • Easy to implement: You do not need to purchase hardware, software licenses or implementation services;
  • Service quality: Cloud service providers offer reliable services, large storage and computing capacity, and 24/7 service and up-time;
  • Delegate non-critical applications: Cloud computing provides a way to outsource non-critical applications to service providers, allowing agency IT resources to focus on business-critical applications;
  • Always the latest software: You are no longer faced with choosing between obsolete software and high upgrade costs. When the applications are web-based, updates are automatic and are available the next time you log into the cloud; and
  • Sharing documents and group collaboration: Cloud computing lets you access all your applications and documents from anywhere in the world, freeing you from the confines of the desktop and facilitating group collaboration on documents and projects.
Cloud computing is the platform of the (near) future and this blog will address other forms, products, services and benefits of cloud computing. I will also discuss the benefits cloud computing provide in bridging the digital divide in developing nations and thus, promoting sustainable social and economic development.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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