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What is Cloud Computing?
It's not just using a laptop on an airplane
By Red Squirrel

Examples of Cloud Computing
Webmail: This has been around probably since the Internet exists. Hotmail, Yahoo mail, ISP provided webmail etc are basically an online hosted application. You can access it from various Internet connected devices from an old 486 computer to a shiny new Blackberry Playbook or Apple Ipad. All the processing such as retrieving email, sending email, and storage, is taken care of at the server and not on your PC. Your PC or other device is simply displaying the information to you and giving you an interface to interact with it.

VPS Hosting: This is a service where you get a server that is actually hosted in a virtualized environment. You can do what you want on this server such as setup a website or application of choice. As your needs grow, this server can be grown without you needing to get a whole new server. As a customer you do not worry about the back end, the host takes care of it for you, all you need to worry about is your own front end.

Internet storage: Some services such as Microsoft Sky Drive allow you to store and share files through the Internet. These files are stored "in the cloud" and available anywhere you go. You are not relying on local hard drives nor do you need any equipment running for these files to be available.

Hosted IT Services: We will get more to that in a bit, but basically this is a newer aspect of cloud computing, and it is a more advanced form of the above combined. Imagine a typical IT infrastructure where you have email, collaboration, file storage, possibly corporate specific apps. Instead of having all this hosted on a set amount of server hardware in your server room, they are hosted by a 3rd party who manages the bare metal portion while you manage the application level. Some services vary, and may even manage the application level for you as well, giving you less need to worry about the inner workings of all the systems. It just works, and everyone can use it to do their work.

You can also use cloud computing within a LAN. In this case, you manage the back end and pretty much build it from scratch using available solutions, but this makes overall management easier as everything is in one uniform setup and the data is in one spot. An example of this would be a VMware ESX farm, or a Citrix farm. A VMware farm is similar to a VPS where you can create virtual environments and possibly even provide them to different departments, or manage them yourself as separate entities. A Citrix farm will allow you to provide applications to end users without having to install them on each PC. When they save files, they will be saved on the server or a SAN, not the workstation's hard drive.

Hosted IT services
This is probably the latest of cloud computing, and often is what most people think about when they hear the term. There are companies such as Amazon, HP and Google to name a few, who provide hosted IT services such as collaboration, document storage/editing and misc apps. Rather than have a mail, web, app (etc) server hosted on site, company IT infrastructure can be hosted and even managed by these cloud companies. This cuts on the need for IT staff as you only need people more or less to help users out, not so much deal with break/fix things or major projects in complex environments. A company that used to have 5 techs could maybe get away with 1 or 2.

On the next page we'll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using Hosted IT services.

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