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Cloud computing explained

Friday, 4 October 2013 | By Taskmaster

Here’s a business proposition for you. I will download all of your work files or emails onto a server sitting in the dungeons under Taskmaster Towers.


Your humble correspondent won’t read them or delete them without permission (like Google did to its Google Reader customers) – I promise!


You can access your content at any time for a low monthly fee. Or perhaps for ‘free’ by putting up with my completely innocuous banner ads – you’ll barely notice them! I swear!


Then, from here on in, you won’t need to worry about server maintenance, security patches, firewalls or Debian dependencies. All of those hassles will be taken care of for you. You won’t get to check those maintenance chores are done, or that the passwords on the server are secure, but they will be. Trust me!


Now, here’s a question for you: would you sign up to such an agreement?


Well, if you sign up for cloud-based services, this is exactly what you’re signing up for: your app or your computer files stored on someone else’s server.


Would there be questions you wanted to ask first? Would you be more likely to agree to use the services of an ASX or Dow Jones Index-listed multinational than the Taskmaster’s? Are there other things you’d like, for example, a local backup in your office of any really essential files?


Of course, once you get these points addressed, it is a computing model with a very long track record.


That’s because, despite the hype, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t a particularly new business model. In fact, before the home computer revolution of the 1980s, it was quite common for businesses to lease time on a DEC minicomputer or IBM System/360 mainframe.


Back then, Sonny Jim, using someone else’s server was known as ‘timesharing’. It was a service offered by a number of companies, including Honeywell and General Electric.


If you were lucky, you’d have your own terminal in your office that you would dial in on using a briefcase-sized modem. And by dial-in, I mean you would dial-in directly to their data centre; none of this fancy logging in over the internet mumbo-jumbo. If you were really lucky, you would even have a black-and-green screen, rather than a printer, for a display for your terminal.


But I digress.


Suffice to say, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t exactly a new idea. Sure, like most things in computing, those servers are a lot more powerful than they used to be. But in truth, using someone else’s server with a terminal pre-dates even the Commodore 64 or the original IBM PC.


So should you sign up to use a cloud computing service? The answer shouldn’t be an automatic yes or no.


Instead, you should absolutely keep in mind that all cloud services involve storing your data on someone else’s server. Now, depending on your business circumstances, that could be a good idea or a bad one. But there are potential risks involved – especially if your supplier isn’t reputable.


It’s up to you to weigh up those costs and benefits.


Get it done – today.