As regular InfoWorld readers know, we've been covering cloud computing since it started to take shape three years ago -- and parsing out what the industry's biggest trend really means. Today we're kicking it up a notch with the launch of a new InfoWorld iGuide to cloud computing.
Think of this graphical iGuide as a portal to help you assess your needs and develop a cloud computing strategy. We've divided the iGuide into six sections, five of them covering common public cloud activities on the open Internet and one devoted to the so-called private cloud.
Cloud applications. Otherwise known as software as a service, cloud apps began as the answer to a simple question: Why can't enterprise applications be as easy to use as websites? That's how Salesforce.com, among others, started out. But the real value to the customer is the speed of deployment and the lack of up-front licensing and server costs. Just set up user accounts, and the provider delivers the application over the Internet through the browser on a subscription or per-use basis -- and ongoing upgrades are part of the bargain.
Big data. Companies collect more data than they know what to do with, from clickstream data on millions of Web users to terabytes of security and system log files. There's gold in that data: predictive analysis for online retail, security threat assessment, early signs of system failure, and so on. But most of that data is unstructured, which means conventional SQL databases won't do. And investing in the infrastructure required for large-scale NoSQL or MapReduce processing isn't worth it unless you run such huge jobs all the time. So why not "rent" that infrastructure from a cloud provider?
Development and testing. You can divide dev and test services into two basic categories: the raw compute and storage providers that let you set up your own environments, and platform-as-a-service providers that offer specific, often incredibly rich, development environments. Microsoft has made a big push lately with its Windows Azure platform, while Salesforce's Force.com platform and Google's App Engine provide their own frameworks and tools. Those who create Web applications using a platform as a service typically deploy on that platform as well.
Disaster recovery. Virtualization and commodity cloud services vastly reduce the cost of redundancy. Before, if you wanted a hot or warm site as a backup for your production data center, you'd need to build it and maintain it as a kind of physical clone -- or have a provider do it for even more money. But virtualization has changed the equation. Now you can wrap up your virtual machines, upload them to an infrastructure-as-a-service provider's servers, and keep them continually updated for far less.
Compute and storage. Simply being able to extend data center infrastructure by going to an infrastructure-as-a-service provider's site, entering account info, and provisioning resources can vastly increase the agility of IT operations -- particularly for short-term "burst" applications. Amazon is the best-known provider, but Rackspace has been in the game nearly as long, and IBM now offers enterprise-class infrastructure-as-a-service plans.