As this is Cloud with Caleb, it’s only appropriate to start with what ‘the cloud’ actually is. I realized that this buzzword has gone so mainstream but many have no idea what it actually is. So if you’re just dipping your toes into the ocean that is IT, you probably have heard that “everything is moving to the cloud”. But What is the cloud? What are its advantages? And How can it be cheaper?
If at some point these questions have crossed your mind, This first techy blog is for you.
Let’s try to summarize and simplify: the cloud.
Mike is the head IT guy at the local Bobbie & Old Ltd. At his company, he is responsible for connecting all the storage devices that hold the company data, the office computers that the workers use, and the network that connects everything together.
As for the rest of the employees, if Mike and his IT team are invisible and stay in their office next to the big, dark computer room with all the blinking lights, things are good. As long as everyone can log-in on their computer and the internet works.
One day Mike’s boss walks into his office to announce the great news that the company is scaling back to a single office for the entire region. That means that nearly everyone can work from home and will only have to be in the office 1 or 2 times a week. On top of that, the company’s workforce is also expected to double in the upcoming year with some largescale projects coming up – very ambitious. Mike’s boss wants him to make sure everyone can continue working as if nothing changed, that the right servers are bought to power the projects and that enough storage is available to save all the data.
(Think of servers as large computers that mainly serve information to other computers. That’s why the server room in your office is likely so big. It has to serve all the computers of your company!)
Mike starts sweating a little because he knows how busy his team already was with keeping everything working in the office, how on earth is it going to keep everything running if people are spread out all across the city? Employees can’t take the large computers home, but they need access to the office’s programs. Also, with the company’s workforce doubling, the current office network and storage equipment isn’t meant to deal with this way of working. And what about the budget?
In a time like this, the cloud might offer considerable solutions to make Mike’s situation a whole lot more manageable at Bobbie & Old. So let’s take a look at some of the ways the cloud can help.
Paying only for what you need
When we say ‘cloud’, we actually mean ‘cloud computing’. That is a fancy way of saying that we make use of someone else’s computers and storage options. So how does that work you might ask? Well, companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have set up enormous data centers around the world. In these huge data centers, there are thousands of very large computers connected with thousands of very large storage devices that are all connected to the internet. Through virtualization, we can split all these computers and disks up into smaller ‘virtual computers’ that can be customized for the exact purposes we need. That might sound confusing, but stick with me:
Let’s say you need to rent some facilities at the local sports center for some competitions you have upcoming year every Saturday. For 2 Saturdays you need the whole sports complex including the basketball court, the ice hockey rink, badminton courts, and the football fields. But for the rest of the Saturdays, you only need the football fields. You are sad to hear that this is not possible. You can only rent the entire sports complex each Saturday, not only the football field. There goes your budget.
That is kind of what we tend to do with computers we buy. For those few occasions where we have very large storage demands or we need very powerful computers to process lots of data, we end up buying very expensive computers. Most of the time we are only browsing the internet and have a few applications running – that’s a waste of money.
By virtualizing the computers in the data center, you can rent the exact size computer you need – only when you need it. This virtual computer looks and acts like the computers we use every day. With a given link you can connect to the virtual computer over the internet. Once the connection is made, you can connect to it and use it like any other computer.
So when Mike has a team that needs lots of computing power (the whole sports complex) to run a big project, he can request a large virtual computer and for that moment, use it, and then stop it when he is done. Only paying for the moments it’s actually in use.
No more Server room
The server room at a company is very expensive to maintain. The room has to be at the right temperature, the machines are always running, there are complex networking devices like routers and switches which can fail at any time causing the network to fall out. These large computers are also huge investments upfront and it can be difficult to know if it will be worth it.
By using the cloud – that’s all someone else’s problem. Mike and his team can be set free to deal with making sure the applications are all running correctly on the virtual computers and no longer have to worry about the server room.
Also, since everyone is working from home and the company is growing, the servers and the office network might get overloaded. This is not a problem with cloud computing. The data centers are set up in a way to deal with the fluctuating high and low demand. So the employees will always have quick access to the computers and data that they need.
Mike would also have to worry less about keeping all the data safe; because losing valuable data is like losing gold. As cloud data centers are spread across the world, Mike can have several relatively cheap backups available in geographically separated locations. If one data center would go down due to a large power outage or natural disaster, all your data can be accessed from elsewhere in the world within minutes. Compared to the one backup-server Mike installed on another floor in the same building, the cloud offers significantly more peace of mind.
So what is the cloud?
In summary, the cloud is someone else’s computer that you can make use of over the internet. It’s (1) cheaper, (2) provides the flexibility you need, (3) it’s easier to maintain, and (4) can backup to keep your data even more secure.
There are tons of software features that we can investigate in future blogs, but I hope that you have gathered enough here to have a fun conversation in your office’s break room (if those are still there after Corona).
And stay tuned for the many more blog posts that I hope will keep your interest in the cloud alive and well.