When I was in my mid-teens, I decided I wanted to learn to fly. I went to the local airport, found an instructor and started my lessons. Soon I had earned my Private Pilot license. For many years, I flew under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and grew very comfortable with the visibility restrictions and limitations that VFR imposes on a pilot.

About 10 years ago, flying VFR was proving to be too limiting, costing me time and money whenever the weather didn’t cooperate. The clouds were getting in my way.

Flying in the Clouds: An Introduction to Cloud Computing

It was time to get into the clouds. As I began to investigate instrument flight programs, I had a level of fear and apprehension about taking an airplane into a cloud and not being able to see beyond the windscreen. I quickly learned that the skills needed to fly the airplane were no different in the clouds than in the clear sky. The real differences were in knowing what new things to look at (the instruments) and what new regulations to follow. As I overcame my apprehensions, I picked up the pace of my training and earned my instrument rating. The clouds were no longer an obstacle, but rather another environment to fly in.

What do You Mean “There’s a Cloud in My Computer”?

When I started my career as an IT professional, the word “cloud” was still used only to describe the atmospheric phenomenon we see in the sky. Now, like so many other terms, it is a term used to describe a facet of computer technology.

My first encounter with the term “cloud” with respect to computers caused the same fear and apprehension that I felt the first few times I flew an airplane into clouds. It’s an unknown. It’s intangible. It’s a new way of doing things. Many other IT pros I’ve recently talked with initially had the same feeling that I did.

Cloud computing is a different delivery model for IT services. This shift can be difficult to accept or understand, since we are all accustomed to knowing exactly where our servers are, the hardware they contain and the network they communicate over. Cloud computing requires a similar mindset change to the change from flying in the clear sky where you can see what’s below and where you are headed, to flying through the clouds where you must trust an unseen radio signal to know where you are headed.

It’s Not All or Nothing

Cloud computing offers the unique ability to start trying and testing cloud-based solutions with minimal financial commitment. Each organization can identify cloud-based solutions that may benefit their organization and implement them on a very small scale to test the waters. If the solution is a fit, scaling up can be as easy as purchasing more subscriptions. If it’s not a fit, the organization is out very little, since there was no investment in hardware and software licenses and minimal IT time expended (no datacenter planning, server setup, software setup or network configuration).

The ability of the cloud to allow testing and evaluation of solutions with a minimal investment in time and money can minimize the fear of venturing into this new and unfamiliar arena.

What are Clouds Made Of?

Atmospheric clouds come in many shapes and sizes. Similarly, the computing cloud is made up of a variety of services. Although the cloud is an abstraction, understanding the services that are available in the cloud can help an organization identify the services that meet their needs.

Though the cloud is a new paradigm in computing, it does follow the lead of legacy computing solutions by introducing a new set of acronyms for its services. Some of the services and related acronyms that you will need to know as you venture into the cloud are

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – provides virtual hardware assets including the machine, storage and network that are provisioned by the client. The infrastructure is managed by the provider. The client is responsible for managing the operating system, applications and user access.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – includes IaaS as well as the operating system, applications, services development framework and control structures. The platform is managed by the provider. The client is responsible for managing the applications they deploy.

Software as a Service (SaaS) – includes PaaS as well as applications and user interface. The provider is responsible for everything from the application and below. The client is then only responsible for entering and managing their data.

Charting Your Course into the Cloud

In the future I’ll discuss how these services apply to a laboratory and strategies that can smooth the transition to cloud-based computing solutions. Security, the other major fear factor of the cloud, will also be discussed.

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