Services In The Cloud

Cloud Computing Offerings Fall Into Several Categories, All With The Goal Of Streamlining Operations
Key Points
• Cloud services are a good match for SMEs because they allow greater flexibility to companies that may not otherwise have the budgets for expansion.
• Service-level agreements are key, especially in relation to compliance issues that arise with data storage.
• Messaging and social networking are becoming more viable options for hosting.

The decision to operate IT services in the cloud is not a trivial matter. In a data center, you may be up and running with a storage array, servers, tape backup, and a host of other computing platforms, all of which need careful monitoring and upkeep to ensure maximum performance. If you decide to offload some of these activities to a cloud provider, it’s a good idea to know the kinds of services that are available and how each one can present some clear benefits to business continuity.

“The huge advantages include eliminating capital expenditures, increasing flexibility, and reducing costs,” says Thorsten von Eicken, CTO at RightScale ( “By using servers in the cloud, small businesses can get out of the expense of building out server rooms and buying hardware assets. Operating in the cloud reduces headaches, reduces costs, and increases flexibility.”

Application Hosting

One of the most common uses of cloud computing for a small to midsized enterprise is application hosting. The advantage is that the technical infrastructure for applications—whether security, bandwidth, network administration, or backup—is all handled by the cloud provider. In many cases, the cloud service has specific requirements about the types of supported applications, and service-level agreements vary among vendors. It’s a good idea to consider whether the cloud provider has any guarantees about application availability and can provide some assurance about how to transition from internal hosting to external hosting (and back again, if you decide to bring hosting back into the data center).

Application hosting is sometimes called SaaS, or software as a service, and refers to the idea of an application provider making sure that enterprise users have real-time access to the applications they need, both from the corporate office and from a mobile device.

Online Communication Services

Online communication is another popular area for hosted services. For example, Web mail is a cloud service in which the provider handles all email processing, including backups, email forwarding, attachments, and storage. For an SME, the advantage is in the infrastructure required, which is often one of the greatest data-processing stress points because of the reliance on email in business. Some of the issues to consider with email hosting are compliance with industry regulations in the event of a discovery for data breaches, encryption for sensitive communication, and extended services for email such as long-term archiving.

On a similar note, although it may be easy to overlook as a cloud service, business-oriented social networking—and its related customer relationship management activities—is also a viable cloud service. Here, the service runs entirely on the Web and allows business associates to communicate through instant messaging, email, and even videoconferencing to keep communication open and ongoing. This kind of social networking in the cloud, at least for business use, is a growing trend and serves as a good example of a service that is more difficult to offer internally in a data center.

Storage & Archiving

Another broad category of cloud computing is data storage, sometimes called data as a service, or DaaS. Storage in the cloud is one of the more controversial aspects of cloud service offerings because it means that your company is not actually storing data; however, it is also one of the prime candidates for offloading to a provider because the cloud is “elastic” in the sense that it can expand and fluctuate according to your needs.

“[Smaller] organizations find that the economies of scale provided by the cloud are superior to maintaining substantial on-premise IT infrastructure,” says Miko Matsumura, author of the book “SOA for Dummies” and CTO at Software AG ( “For larger enterprises, it will be challenging in the midterm to integrate both on- and off-premise applications and infrastructure.”

As another less-common cloud service, some providers also offer a way to do off-premise backup and long-term archiving to the cloud, usually through a gateway that runs on-premise and offloads data to another provider. Like data storage in the cloud, data archiving is another controversial service because it means critical business data is stored offsite. But as in data storage, the advantages are in elasticity where there are no local tape storage systems that can be overloaded and the cloud can expand with the needs of a company. Cloud providers can offer varying levels of data archiving; for example, you may decide to offload your email archiving but not application data archiving.

Infrastructure Hosting

For an SME, it is also possible to host a compute infrastructure in the cloud—all of the services a data center could provide, such as application hosting, email, and storage. Infrastructure hosting is done in such a way that a small to medium-sized company can choose to expand quickly without an investment in hardware or software because all compute functions are hosted by an external provider. Infrastructure hosting companies can provide the consulting and services necessary to move to a cloud computing model where all services are external and none are housed at the business location.

Overall, cloud computing services are a good match for the SME market because work and infrastructure resources are often tapped to the extreme, and having a provider that can help with those services and expand with your data needs is invaluable, especially in a stressed economy.

BY John Brandon

Copyright © by Sandhills Publishing Company 2009. All rights reserved.



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