A few weeks ago, I happened across a television commercial on "Microsoft Cloud." My first reaction was to shout out, "That's not a thing!" To this, my wife calmly replied that, if it wasn't a thing, they wouldn't have spent money on the commercial. Still, it stuck in my mind a bit, because "cloud" isn't a tangible item, and most television commercials are focused on tangible things.
The use of the term "cloud" has doubled in the past three years, so it's not surprising to find it popping up everywhere (including television commercials). "Cloud" is an umbrella term that brings together a group of service models that include the following.
- Software-as-a-service (SaaS): This has been around for decades; things like Yahoo Mail and Salesforce.com are examples of SaaS.
- Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): Examples of PaaS include the Google App Engine, Wordpress.org, and Amazon RDS.
- Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): Hosting providers such as Amazon, Rackspace, and Microsoft are examples of IaaS.
Of the three cloud service models, it’s IaaS that large organizations have most slowly moved to adopt. There are many reasons why this is the case. For example, large financial services corporations, healthcare organizations, and government entities must adhere to strict regulations. The idea of having infrastructure hosted by a third party raises concerns regarding security, privacy, reliability, and service-level agreements.
But the idea of outsourcing your infrastructure is not new. I've seen companies outsource their entire IT department by contracting with companies like IBM to come in and manage their systems. Chances are you know someone who works in IT and has worked for three companies but never left their cubicle.
Though the idea of treating IT as a resource that can be outsourced is familiar, the apprehension to truly leverage the cloud still exists. Yes, some of the apprehension is a result of antiquated industry regulations that have yet to be updated for the 21st century. But that will change eventually. And when the regulations change, so will the way those industries view IaaS.
That's why I believe IaaS is ready to explode over the next three to five years. The areas where I see IaaS having the biggest and most immediate impact include the following.
- Disaster recovery (DR): Right now, companies typically take daily tape backups of their servers and ship them to offsite storage facilities for DR purposes. The costs associated with this process are staggering. When you go to an IaaS model, the DR is factored into the subscription price.
- High availability (HA): Companies are deploying duplicate hardware to secondary locations to maintain business continuity should disaster strike. With IaaS, you often won't need to purchase the additional hardware. Services like Microsoft Azure provide HA abilities by default.
- New product development: You can spin servers up or down as your developers need them, allowing you to control costs and free up space in your datacenter. Developers and server admins can work together to create configurations that are much more flexible than traditional servers.
- Capacity: Once you start going to IaaS, you will find it frees up your staff to focus on other things, like delivering quality solutions for your business. The cost of running IT gets shifted to the cloud and becomes something you can scale up and down as needed. Maintenance, customization, training, and software fees become things of the past.
- Compatibility: Using IaaS lets you centralize your information and access it from anywhere, including from other applications. By following Internet and web standards, your company can provide solutions that will allow for easier connections to and from one another.
The first steps needed to embrace IaaS are actually already under way. You can see it in all of the products that use the word "hybrid." The hybrid approach allows companies to dip their toes in the water before going all in on the cloud. These products are being built to help satisfy the current demand. Eventually, though, we will get to the point where even the largest corporations have more servers in the cloud than in their own datacenter.
What's the key message here? It doesn't matter who you are or where you work. If you're not embracing cloud technologies in your daily life, then you are going to be left behind as the world moves forward.