Every new development in technology brings with it a bewildering array of new names and concepts Cloud technology is no different. Never mind the “forget what you know” marketing hype. In this article you will see just how attainable the technology is and how little there is to learn. At its heart Cloud Computing consists of a few tools elegant in their simplicity yet profound in their impact, not least of all to the bottom line!

Cloud starts with a revolutionary, but now rather old and familiar technology, that is virtualisation. Virtualisation allows you to install an operating system on a generic layer overlaying the hardware. This simple concept offers two game-changing features.

  1. Portability: The system no longer needs awareness of BrandX hardware, it sees only the generic interfaces of the Virtual Environment. The operating system can now be moved from one physical machine to another as long as both share the virtual environment.
  2. Resource Sharing: Multiple operating systems can share a single set of hardware with the virtual environment managing allocation of the underlying physical resources.

From the operating system perspective and low-level technical caveats excepted, nothing has changed. Your Windows or Linux machine is still a Windows or Linux machine. This is the beauty of Virtualisation, it breaks the tie between operating system and hardware without impacting either. Virtualisation means vanilla installations can be archived ready to be copied and configured when the need arises.

Those familiar with products such as VMWare will know that this technology has been around for years. To understand how Virtualisation became “Cloud” we need to look at Amazon’s ingenious use of the Xen virtualization suite.

Amazon were faced with a problem familiar to many retailers with seasonal peaks. Their infrastructure was as big as their Christmas peak. Virtualisation offered them a way to scale their operation up and down to fit their business volumes leaving clean redundant hardware during lulls. Using a combination of the Portability and Resource Sharing features of Virtualisation, and adding an interface for third party consumption Amazon’s Elastic Cloud was born allowing public use of Amazon’s redundant server and storage space.

An Operational Revolution:
As we’ve seen, Virtualisation changes nothing at the operating system level, a server is still a server, Linux is still Linux, Windows is still Windows. What has changed is the process of provisioning. Until the advent of Cloud, the process of commissioning servers involved either purchasing hardware or outsourcing this to a third party in the form of a server rental agreement. The lead time could be measured in days because it involved wires, screwdrivers and racks. By contrast, Cloud uses redundant hardware, that is hardware already installed and tested by the vendor. The specification for a server is no longer translated into a physical hardware shopping list but to a “virtual” allocation of resources from the existing Virtualised pool. At a stroke provisioning times have been cut from days, or even weeks to minutes.

Shorter provisioning times and easy resource reallocation allows the consumer far greater granular control of infrastructure spend and has revolutionised pricing structures with many vendors now offering rental agreements of 1 hour rather than the more traditional months and years required for them to preserve margin against hardware bought to serve a particular client.

Cloud servers are a genuine win-win, the vendor passes on reduced overhead through better resource allocation and more densely populated data centres while the consumer enjoys flexible hour-by-hour rental charges on a platform their IT staff will already with and the benefits of rescaling only a few minutes away. For the many businesses still sitting on a depreciating asset as large as their seasonal peak, Cloud servers are ripe fruit waiting to be harvested.