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Critical Communications
Two Way Radio, 911 and Dispach
Converged Communications and Contact Centers

Same Service, Different Day – Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing – Really?

Cloud based applications aren’t all that new, but the marketing sure makes it seem so.

Yes, we made a play on the old S.S.D.D. acronym. But if you look at technology and timelines, you’ll see why this isn’t such a bad description.

But first, lets define Cloud Computing.  Before I write it down, I want you to know, that I didn’t do a search for “Cloud Computing definition” before starting this post.  Let’s see how close I come.

Cloud Computing -

“An application that is provided to a computing device where the execution of the core application is done separate from the (application) client, and outside the user’s private secure network, instead accessed by a shared public network.

The core application is owned and executed by some other 3rd party. The core application is also developed or configured such that it appears to be a single instance of the application to the user or specific group of users. The application client may be a standards based interface, a custom software application, or embedded firmware based.

The key difference between cloud computing and the client – server model is that in the client – server model, the core application and hardware is maintained (typically) by the users organization and located inside the private secure network.”

So, did I come close?

Since I’ve been around computing and networking for a long time, which is why I still call myself an Independent Telecommunications Consultant, even though I’m really a Technology Consultant. So long that I remember setting up UUCP connections at the blazing speed of 2400 bps. I’ve seen a lot of various industry trends, and how they focus on buzzwords. I’m not saying that there have not been great innovations and that they didn’t deserve the marketing hyperbole that they received, but I’ve also seen some really creative spins on concepts that have been around for years.

One of the better spins is Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been around for decades, just called something else. Let’s build a list of the “key features” of my definition of cloud applications.

    1. Primary application processing is not on the user’s computing device.
    2. Primary application runs outside the private network, on 3rd party hardware/software.
    3. Appears as a single instance to the user(s).
    4. User accesses application with a standards based client.

My first example of a cloud application that’s been around for years?

POP3/IMAP EMAIL

Probably the first ubiquitous application anybody used on the internet, and in my case, back to when I ran a MajorBBS and AX.25 based packet bulletin boards on VHF radio. (For those who don’t know, packet radio is very similar to SCADA radio systems.)

Unless you’re a total techno-geek, an organization that has a user base large enough, or has other requirements to keep your email server in house, your email is probably hosted by your ISP, your web hosting company, or some email host. You access it using an email client like Outlook, Thunderbird, or even your smart phone using standard POP3 or Imap protocols. The server acts as the mail transfer agent, and (generally) stores your email. This is especially true if you access your email via a web browser.  And it’s YOUR email server if it’s a dedicated domain name – at least that’s how it looks to you and your email client. Hmm, sure looks like a cloud app to me.

My second example of a cloud app that’s been used for a long time?

E-Commerce

Why E-Commerce?

Because to call any web page a cloud app would be too obvious. Besides, e-commerce has a lot more going on in the background than the serving up of a web page, even when it’s dynamically generated by WordPress, Joomla, or Ruby on Rails. An e-commerce site has a database driven content system, but it also has a credit card authentication process, and a mechanism that hooks back into the merchants inventory and accounting systems. Advanced e-commerce sites have advanced API code snippets to the merchants Contact Center for customer service chat applications and Click to Call services. If you don’t think the e-commerce site collects all these customer metrics for a Customer Relationship Management system for creating and tracking their marketing campaigns, you aren’t paying attention to what your browser does on a sophisticated e-commerce site. As someone who provides contact center consulting, I can tell you there has been billions of dollars spent on this in the last 20 years.

Most merchants don’t host their own e-commerce sites. Instead they rely on the hosting company for the “processing” and development, or a different web development company to maintain the web application. The user accesses all of these transparently through nothing more than a web browser.

I could go into a lot more, like telnet/ssh, ftp/sftp/scp and all these “cloud backup” services, which are nothing more than fancy rsync services. If I really wanted to delve deep, I’d get into collaboration services like Basecamp and ProjectPier, or one of the organizations that many consider really made the industry pay attention to “The Cloud” – Salesforce.com.

Cloud computing has gone by a lot of names. The first one I can really recall being used is Application Service Provider or ASP for short. A lot of the hosted Microsoft server applications were marketed this way. Software as a Service, or SaaS had better marketing, and it’s still used on occasions. It’s got the catchy roll off the tongue phrase, and the acronym looks cool in print – SaaS. But in the end, it just didn’t catch on either, and I can give a really good reason – but that will have to wait for the follow up of this post.

In the end, Cloud Computing got the marketing, and the buy in by multiple vertical segments of the technology industry. In my next post on this, I’ll explain why the industry is pushing cloud computing, and what parts might be good for business. More importantly, I’ll tell where you should “Run, not Walk!” away from cloud applications, particularly in small business technology situations.

And as I promised, now you can check my definition of Cloud Computing against Wikipedia. Looks like I was pretty close!

Make sure you read my follow on posts about cloud, “continuing on – Cloud Computing” and “To Cloud, or Not to Cloud“.

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