Cloud explained for the layman

If you are a non technical person wanting to catch up ahead of a meeting or just curious, I hope the following will fill the gaps for you.

The cloud  is most definitely a buzzword and as such there is no widely accepted definition of what it actually is.  One fact is certain, whatever you are selling from blueberry pie to cleaning fluids, if you can describe it as cloud you will get more airtime in 2017.

Ever since I stumbled on Arpanet,  I dreamed of a cloud much like the one we have, or rather, are developing so I have to be positive but I also have to warn that it is in its infancy.

The cloud is a new idea promoted by Big software businesses and many experts not given to fantasy, suggest it is also heavily promoted and to some degree funded by security agencies too, to get everyone’s data on a small handful of public cloud services.

In the simplest terms. the cloud wants to replace your hard drive with a shared hard drive somewhere else in the world which you rent by the month.
Naturally the product managers have been at it expanding the idea to provide running applications you can share form a remote server and hard drive, even someone’s server you can share and so forth.
Yes, it costs quite a bit more than buying a server or whatever, but then you dont need an IT team managing it and they promise to keep it running to a very high SLA.

Please see my previous blog on the cloud here for a more detailed discussion

The services are neatly broken down into S, P, or I followed by “AAS”

AAS means “As A Service” what that means for you is that: you don’t own it, you don’t control it, you don’t know what it will cost next year, you can’t control security of your systems and data, you may not be able to get to your systems and data at all if there is an outage ( We already had many of these) or if there is a minor war or civil unrest in the wrong location.  Even a change of government and legislation could bring serious issues. Add to this the conflicting drives of web globalisation and closing borders and it’s not hard to see the risks and contradictions wrapped up in “the cloud” in 2017, time of writing.

S stands for software.  In reality this is nothing new, we had multi-tenanted systems like CRM etc for many years running on web servers and it’s hard to see what the cloud brings to this, other than perhaps an ability to virtualise it, i.e. instead of a managed tenancy, you rent your own virtual server online, again not by any means restricted to cloud. Virtual means just that, the differences is mostly smoke and mirrors.

P stands for Platform.  This  describes a scenario where you have all the servers you need provided for you and managed, but you build your own systems on the platform. This removes the need for an IT function to keep the platforms running and managed, but leaves you in charge of the systems.

I stands for infrastructure. This is a scenario whereby you simply get access to the cloud and you “spin-up” your own servers, firewalls, routers, load balances and everything else you need and you are responsible for all aspects of managing it. The benefit here is that you are able to set exactly the resource you need at any time and scale up or down massively with a few clicks.

Finally there is hybrid architecture whereby you can have the IAAS offering and connect it seamlessly back to the ranch using a VPN so your two IT estates look and behave as one, giving you the best of both worlds. This arrangement lets you grow and shrink capacity massively at short notice as the need arises and provides some, though very limited protection from the insecurity of having no control.

 Underlying the cloud is a data centre style framework with unlimited (hopefully) ability to create virtual servers for any purpose. Virtual means that they dont have to be installed on a specific server(physical hardware) like the old days, any number could be installed side by side on a single physical machine, or across a whole lot of machines.

This configuration does provide a lot of benefits in flexibility, can potentially save on license fees, at least currently and when connected to the physical enterprise via virtual networks it provides for easy integration and the extra security of being able to easily replicate data across different physical locations.
A particular downside is the growth in the phenomenon of businesspeople being sold to over the CIOs head and committing organisations to dangerous situations both legally and technically. This is especially dangerous when there is any form of regulation involved or even data protection laws. It is also extremely unethical to stalk an organisation in military fashion, inviting them to leisure events and befriending them purely to be able to override the authority of those who are responsible for the outcomes of every decision.

see also my previous blog about things to consider  

The “Explained series” is planned to build into a trustworthy collection of explanations and commentaries that can be trusted to tell the story straight without any bias and attempt to make the subjects accessible to the layman. The latter is not always easy as some of these terms refer to genuinely complex subject matter, while others are simply too vague to pin down (there’s another word for that). There is also a limit to how far I can go in explaining every term when there are a lot of them, so I have to sometimes rely on your initiative to right click the offending word and look it up.
If you want an answer on something and you can’t find it easily, please use the comments section to just ask and I will appreciate not having to research the next topic.