For a company, "Cloud computing" refers to the fact of outsourcing the digital IT resources it exploits. You no longer have to run applications internally, they run in an external data centre accessible via Internet.
Marie-Anne Peiffer, Usine/Entreprise, April 2011
Cloud Computing: these two words appear never the leave the mouths of those involved in the world of computing. But what do they really mean and what are the implications of "computing in the clouds" for companies such as computing service providers? It is certainly a change but is it a radical one? This is certainly the opinion of Antonio Paci, Solutions Architect with Systemat Global Solutions, where this change has been underway for a long time.
In answer to the question "Just what is Cloud Computing?", Antonio Paci's response is quite simple. "Cloud Computing is the fact of no longer having to invest in resources but leasing them", before going on to add" but of course, it is not as simple as that". For, whilst the expression is indeed in vogue and whilst many companies have been set up over the last few years to "do Cloud Computing", very often they do not have what it takes.
Antonio Paci: "Systemat is not just a Cloud Provider. We do not have a magic wand but live in the real world, in the field and, for us, Cloud Computing represents a logical, gradual development based entirely Customers' requirements".
Convincing the bosses of small and medium size businesses has no longer been necessary for some time. Facebook, Google, Twitter, MSN, etc., the movement is underway and, according to our spokesman, it is like a steamroller. "I think that the development of Cloud Computing will change everything, both technologically, socially and economically. "Company directors are now aware of the costs arising out of the maintenance of their computer systems, they have experience computer crashes and have encountered difficulties when moving; they are looking to merge or wish to start a system of tele-working. Cloud Computing provides a real solution for all such cases, gradually and without disruption."
SMEs IN THE CLOUDS?
Given such essentials, Cloud Computing appears to be an ideal solution, particularly for small and medium size businesses. Antonio Paci: "What we often find is that the servers of SMEs coming to end of a cycle, become obsolete. The question then is: should I reinvest as I always have done since the company was set up, or it there another solution? Before, bosses had to buy everything: the server itself, the warranty extensions for cover the estimated service life of the server, disk space, licenses, Exchange, security and spams, maintenance with updates, etc.: all this is expensive, not mentioning the fact that small and medium size businesses have other things on their minds! An entrepreneur wants to exercise his profession, concentrate on his core business and not become a computer engineer".
All this capital expenditure (CAPEX) becomes operational expenditure (OPEX) in Cloud Computing, since it enables the boss to avoid investments for the purchase of goods and equipment to incurr operational expenditure for the exploitation of a product or system.
SECURITY AND CONTROL OF TOOLS
Security, which is often raised by the critics of Cloud Computing, is of course essential. In outsourcing the server, is the company network still secure? Do companies risk losing control over the implementation of their data and the life cycle of applications? Should we fear clouding malware (the infection of Cloud Computing networks)?
"In reality, there are two questions", retorts Antonio Paci. "First the question of security and the control of tools. In terms of security, I am radical and trim the wings of the bird: it is the same or greater with Cloud Computing as in businesses. Security techniques now exist and are available "à la carte". To illustrate his remarks, Antonio Paci quotes the real example of the company's mail server. "Does the company manager ask how messages get to him? Or whether malicious copies can be made? No. In reality, most problems of security are not new. "Security with Cloud Computing is "à la carte". "Customers may ask for the activation of successive levels of security. "All levels of security within the company are therefore covered by Cloud Computing and the same technology is used.
"Cloud Computing even offers additional functions", notes Antonio Paci. "Before, in terms of security, when a problem arose, for example malware bouncing around the system, the internal computer system crashed and overloaded the telecommunication link. With Cloud Computing, if such an incident occurs it will no longer affect internal users and since the Internet link is no longer being used in the company, it will be free to work: it is the service provider who will be affected and have to assume the consequences".
SHARING AND ECONOMIES OF SCALE
We understand: one of the main advantages of Cloud Computing is that the customer who makes this choice organises things as he wishes. Antonio Paci: "Let us go back to case of exchanges. Either I install them internally on a private server (dedicated environment), or I lease boxes on a shared server. In this case, the same server supplies several companies, which must reduce costs. "A significant reduction in costs, he insists. Particularly for small and medium size businesses with a small number of users. companies sometime also opt for a combination of a dedicated server and an external server. "The more a company opts for a shared environment, the greater its economies of scale."
Another advantage of Cloud Computing is that it provides great flexibility. Since investments are not involved, a company manager dissatisfied with Cloud Computing can, at any time, "switch" to a dedicated server. Antonio Paci: "Before, computer specialists had to calculate their budgets and draw up a financial plan covering several years. With Cloud Computing, this often time-consuming work is no longer necessary. The question to be asked is what do I need? And in three years, we shall see. "The server environment may, at any time, be modified, depending on the actual requirements of the company. Economies of scale, flexibility, etc. An additional advantage of Cloud Computing (and not the least) is the end of the wastage. Cloud Computing is, in this sense, very similar to what is happening with the consumption of electricity: the consumer plugs in, consumes and unplugs when he is finished.
Antonio Paci: "In most companies, dedicated servers are only used to 30 or even 20% of capacity. There is therefore an important economic aspect but also an ecological side to things. If, starting from a central point, a data center, I am capable of serving up to 500 companies, I will naturally achieve economies of scale: there is only one air-conditioning system to manage, a single computer room, there are fewer maintenance technicians, etc. The overall environment is shared by a very large number of users."
SAY EVOLUTION AND NOT REVOLUTION
According to Antonio Paci, the development of Cloud Computing will change the situation completely, but over the more or less long term. "Not everybody will switch at the same time. We are therefore rather in a soft moving situation and we talk about evolution rather than revolution. We respond gradually, as the request of the market and, unlike companies, we no longer have to draw up plans covering on several years. We therefore resort to what we call capacity planning. At any time, we measure our computer capacity and assess our resources to be able to invest in Cloud Computing (servers, storage capacity, bandwidth, connections, electricity, etc.). We manage our technical integration centre according to the predictability of the market."
SYSTEMAT's technical integration centre lies in the heart of Wallonia, in Jumet. This facility (also known in the jargon as a "server farm") must be carefully though out electrically (generating set, redundancy, etc.), in terms of connectivity to Internet (bandwidth, control, etc.) but also in terms of administration, maintenance and security. All these aspects are designed to serve a large number of customers "à la carte". Antonio Paci: "The main Cloud Computing service providers package their services very densely; this is not the case for us. We are very flexible, we are almost the artisans of Cloud Computing. No two contracts are the same. "This facility houses engineers, technicians, specialists, etc. "In terms of the control of consumption, at present it is virtualisation (that is the fact of being able to run several networked servers in the same physical entity) which enables us to optimise the load of the physical servers, including the consumption of electricity and air-conditioning."