Cloud computing: Taking advantage of the silver lining

Even if you aren’t a techie, chances are you’ve heard about cloud computing. Similar to previous technology revolutions—the personal computer, the Internet, wireless computing and Web 2.0—that have changed the way we live and work, cloud computing is making its way into the public consciousness by way of news articles and magazine cover stories. And with the likes of Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft getting involved, it has become an important business topic. After all, cloud computing may very well revitalize the technology industry, empower consumers, level the playing field for smaller businesses and reduce IT complexity for larger corporations.

What exactly is cloud computing? While the term has been defined in a number of ways, most references are to “public clouds,” generally described as a model where a company outsources the ownership and management of some part of its IT business applications or infrastructure. Simply put, cloud computing is the act of storing, accessing and sharing data, software applications and computing power in cyberspace. The concept of storing data in remote locations along with pay-as-you-go pricing plans is not new, but today’s cloud computing presents users with some exceptional opportunities as well as some challenges.

If you are using an online email service, connecting with friends through social networking sites or sharing creative content that is hosted by remote servers, you are already actively participating in the cloud on a personal level. But for small and large companies alike, the cloud model is changing business computing in important ways. First, it is modular, effectively separating software applications from underlying infrastructure. Second, it is standardized, relying on the same resources that many different customers share. With cloud computing, a business forgoes a hefty capital expense and ongoing maintenance costs, while the service provider benefits from economies of scale.

The real question is, “What does cloud computing mean for your business?” It could mean the difference between a business that is agile and one that stands still. But the path to agility is not an obvious one—it often requires a shift from internal to external Internet-based technology resources.

Benefits

A perennial problem with IT has been its inability to deliver solutions at the speed of business. Cloud computing is changing this dynamic, since the technology deploys these solutions in days, not months. Using cloud-based resources, companies no longer have to divert time, expertise and expense to build the dedicated technology that makes innovation happen. In turn, that allows companies to reconsider the pace of change that they can take on.

Most obvious, the cloud can help businesses meet demands for change and greater agility by facilitating the experimentation cycle, and improving on time-to-market delivery of new products and services. That can free companies to focus on customer engagement since customers’ needs are changing in ways that demand more interaction with a business.