We’re constantly hearing about ‘the cloud’ in one form or another – Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive – but what exactly is it? Although these storage solutions are a key component, the cloud is much more than just simple distributed storage. In this blog post, I’ll present my current views as a web developer, having previous experience of working in IT services and outsourcing.
Despite the persistence of security and data compliance issues – the news back in August 2016 that 68 million Dropbox user credentials dating as far back as 2012 were hacked; financial corporations being subject to stringent data protection regulations governing the transferring and storage of sensitive data across geographical and political borders – more companies are now adopting the cloud, not only to host their entire web application infrastructure, but also to provide a fully integrated business solution. The most frequently cited examples are Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office 365, both of which have evolved from desktop application suites into Software as a Service, or SaaS.
Re-shaping traditional IT infrastructure – new entrants
You might be surprised to know that Amazon (Amazon Web Services, or AWS) is the dominant vendor in cloud-based computing. So how exactly did an e-commerce site become the leader in a field already filled with big names such as Google, Apple and Microsoft?
The story behind Amazon’s unexpected rise to conquer the cloud-based provider arena was the company’s realisation that they were wasting a lot of time coordinating their in-house applications and infrastructure teams. This led to the decision to build their own scalable infrastructure, and then the realisation that with a little extra work, they could make this available for everyone wanting to build scalable web applications. Their willingness to adapt and to become ‘digital disruptors’ has forever changed the face of traditional monolithic IT infrastructure.
The reasons for cloud adoption
From a personal perspective, storing data in the cloud allows the easy and convenient access to retrieve and share our photos and videos with friends and family, with the added benefit of knowing that your data is protected and stored off-site. With a correctly configured cloud backup solution, the worst-case scenarios of loss or damage of personal devices are now limited to hardware only – which in many cases can be covered by an adequate insurance policy. For cases involving loss or theft, both iOS and Android offer features that can remotely wipe your private data.
More than just data storage
In the past, from my own experience, a simple case of provisioning a dedicated server to host a new application would have required a whole team of experts – Linux, networks, data-centre and database engineers – and many live production environments would also require project and change management involvement to co-ordinate the activity with respect to ensuring business continuity. With the ready availability of public clouds, the underlying layers of hardware and infrastructure are abstracted even further away from the developer, allowing for agile and rapid deployment of Minimum Viable Products (MVP).
In the case of Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), it’s as simple as selecting the number of CPUs, memory and storage for the virtual machine, deploying the image for your chosen Linux variant and then securely logging into the system. What would have previously taken weeks if not months to accomplish, can now be realized in a matter of minutes. Other major providers of Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, include 1&1, Microsoft’s Azure and Rackspace’s Open Cloud.
The other major benefits of IaaS include the ability to scale on demand, either vertically through increasing compute power or horizontally by adding more instances, and billing by usage – no long-term commitments, which mitigates the need for huge upfront installation costs and the risks of maintaining underutilised and depreciating assets.
The cloud and HSSMI
‘Knowledge rich, asset poor’ is a phrase that we often use around the office to summarise HSSMI’s core values. I strongly believe that the cloud both enables and encourages this ideology, since the real value lies with the ability to extrapolate and derive useful meaning from data, rather than the physical platform used to perform these analytics.
All the web applications we’ve built in the Data Analytics for Resource Efficiency team – HandsApp, Dynamic Resource Monitor and the Remanufacturing Readiness Toolkit – are hosted on cloud-based platforms. The flexibility, configurability and scalability of the cloud supports our agile development workflow, allowing us to better focus on our efforts achieving both our project and customer requirements.