Cloud computing introduces a revolutionary shift in how technology is obtained, used and managed. It has completely and fundamentally disrupted how organisations budget and pay for technology services, but I’m still regularly asked by people across all levels of an organisation what it is exactly and why they should be paying attention.
As I predominantly deal with senior leaders in technology organisations, it may seem odd that I would be asked such a fundamental question. But when you think of how quickly the cloud computing landscape is evolving, with new products and services being added every week, it is easy to see how quickly you can lose sight of the basic concept and advantages of cloud computing, and get bogged down down in detailed benefits and implications of one new tool over another.
In this post, I give a general overview of cloud computing and list seven of the main advantages over traditional, on-premise data centres. This is by no means a technical deep dive but even the most experienced Cloud Architect can benefit from taking a step back and looking at the basics once in a while.
What is Cloud Computing
In simple terms, cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of IT resources and applications via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing. The cloud offers an easy, flexible and low-cost way to access servers, storage, databases, and a vast array of application services for organisations ranging from those running consumer-facing mobile applications for millions of users, to the worlds largest financial institutions who need to support the critical operations of their business while complying with diverse global regulations — all while providing an exceptional user experience for their customers. There is no need to make large upfront investments in hardware or spend a lot of time managing that hardware with cloud computing. With cloud computing, you can provision exactly the right type, size and amount of computing resources you need almost instantly, and pay only for what you use.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
Organisations can optimise their spending as they can reconfigure the computing environment quickly to adapt to changing business requirements. Compute and storage capacity can be scaled up or down automatically to meet varying demand and services can either be temporarily taken offline or shut down permanently. Importantly, with pay-per-use billing, cloud services become an operational expense instead of a capital expense.
Given the enormous breadth of available products and services in the cloud, each organisation will design their environments in the way that makes the most sense to them and will, therefore, experience different advantages and benefits based on the architectural choices and decisions they make. There are, however, seven main advantages to cloud computing that are common to most organisations:
1. Speed and Agility
With cloud computing, organisations can reduce the time it takes to make new IT resources available to developers from weeks to just minutes. New development servers, replicated production environments or experimental architecture can be created at the click of a button and shut down or removed just as easily. This ability to experiment quickly and at a far lower cost dramatically increases the speed and agility of the entire organisation.
2. Focus on Innovation
By embracing cloud computing, organisations can stop spending money on running and maintaining data centres and other, undifferentiated activities. Cloud computing allows organisations to focus on innovation and projects that differentiate their business. No Silicon Valley startup or global enterprise will disrupt their industry or become known for how well they rack, stack and power their servers. In technology, the pace of change has never been as great as it is today, and organisations can’t afford to dedicate more time or resource to operational workloads than they do on innovation.
3. Economies of Scale
As more and more customers around the world move their workloads to the cloud, the big providers such as AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure can achieve higher economies of scale and therefore lower prices due to the aggregated usage of their infrastructure. Organisations can achieve a lower variable cost in the cloud than they can get by building out their own infrastructure.
4. Trade Capital Expense for Variable Operational Expense
With cloud computing, you pay only when you use (consume) computing resources, and pay only for how much you use, instead of having to invest heavily in data centre infrastructure and servers before knowing how you’re going to use them.
5. Increased Security
In the past, some organisations stated security as a reason not to move to the cloud. So for the major cloud providers, cloud security is the number one priority and these days, security in the cloud is recognised as better than on-premise. The underlying cloud data centre infrastructure and network architectures are built to satisfy the requirements of the most security-sensitive organisations. With a plethora of security options provided by the cloud providers or third parties, organisations can secure any application they deploy to the cloud without the capital outlay and with much lower operational overhead than in an on-premises environment.
6. Capacity Planning
Traditionally, organisations would invest heavily in data centres based on the highest predicted demand over a certain period. This would mean that in order to have adequate capacity for high traffic periods such as Christmas or Black Friday sales, you would sit with massive underutilisation/idle capacity for the rest of the year. Or worse still, if you only catered for the average months, you’d have servers crashing when usage spiked, and you’d lose all that additional business as a result. With cloud computing, organisations can stop guessing about capacity requirements for the infrastructure necessary to meet their business needs. They can access as much or as little as they need and scale up or down as required with only a few minutes notice.
7. Rapid Global Scaling
Going global used to be something only the largest enterprises could afford to do, but cloud computing democratises this ability, making it possible for any organisation. Organisations can easily deploy applications to multiple locations (comprised of regions and zones) around the world with just a few clicks. This allows organisations to provide redundancy across the world and to deliver lower latency and better experience to their customers at minimal cost. For security and compliance reasons, resources aren’t replicated across regions unless organisations choose to do so.
The future is innovation
Since Amazon Web Services Inc (AWS) first began offering up Amazon’s vast computing resources to the public back in 2006, cloud computing has moved on from being seen as just another data centre option to a complete paradigm shift in the way IT resources are consumed and delivered.
Economies of scale and on-demand capacity allow those organisations who fully embrace the cloud to innovate and deploy applications far more rapidly and cost-effectively than those who are waiting to make the move. The blistering pace of these innovations has quickly moved the conversation from “should we move to the cloud?” to “What is the fastest and most effective way for us to move to the cloud?”.
Cloud computing is no longer optional for those organisations that wish to compete. Just as we don’t build and run our own power stations to keep the lights on and we no longer dig wells to access water, IT infrastructure and computing power is now as accessible as the flick of a switch or turning a tap on or off. With the infrastructure playing field effectively levelled, innovation and agility will determine the winners in the new era of high performing business.
In simple terms, cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of IT resources and applications via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing.