Server Environments: In-House vs Cloud

512_cloudBy now many of us have probably heard about “the cloud” in one way or another. However, most of us don’t fully understand what it means and the reason is “the cloud” really doesn’t really refer to anything specifically. This article will not only enlighten you on what this mysterious technology is but also whether it’s appropriate for your small, medium, or large business.


What are web-based services?

The simplest way to think of the cloud is web-based services. What I mean is rather than having software downloaded, installed, and running on your computer, say an email program such as Microsoft Outlook, you are using a website, say, to accomplish the same task. For technologists, this is a massive over simplification, however it demonstrates the shift from traditional computing to services.

Web-based services can fall into three categories:

Infrastructure as-a Service, or IaaS, is the cloud’s answer to server rooms. That is, rather than housing a fixed number of physical servers in your building, you pay to have virtual servers provided to you. Some of thebiggest IaaS providers are Amazon, IBM, and Rackspace.

Platform as-a Service, or PaaS, is the cloud’s answer to in-house software programming. That is, rather than setting up your server stack from scratch, you pay for virtual servers that come fully stacked and ready for customization and development. If you’re lost here, don’t worry; this is designed for developers not end-users.

Software as-a Service, or SaaS, is the cloud’s answer to software installed on a user’s computer. That is, rather than buying software and worrying about keeping it up to date, you pay to have software provided to you usually through a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Safari. More than likely, this is the only exposure you’ve had to the cloud. Some of the most popular solutions are Google Apps (Gmail, Drive, etc),Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Citrix GoToMeeting, and Cisco WebEx.

Is the cloud for you?

If you’re considering the cloud for your start-up or established company, here are the primary factors to weigh.

Cloud Service Candidates In-house Candidates
Low up-front cost: Pay by usage vs. Low total cost: One-time cost
Growth: Cloud services can allocate more servers to you with a flip of a switch Performance
Access: Regardless of where you are in the world you can access the cloud Security: Your data resides on and passes through public infrastructure
Zero downtime Possible downtime
No hardware requirements Specific hardware requirements

Other cloud service concerns are:

Bandwidth and Productivity. Non-cloud software such as AutoCAD and Revit will require that files be transferred between the cloud service and the end-user. Do you have enough bandwidth to maintain productivity in the workplace? Depending on your line of work and typical file sizes your requirements will vary. Remember, bandwidth comes at a price.

Confidentiality. Do you have an obligation to maintain confidential data? Depending on the nature of your data you may need to take extra steps to secure your data or worse “island” your confidential data in a hybrid cloud/in-house solution.

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