The Cloud: To Surf or Not to Surf

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010 12:00 am  

Ted Clouser of PC Assistance in Little Rock says the cloud has benefits, but is wary of affording it his full trust.

You're running late for an appointment when you realize you forgot to pay the light bill, and it's due today. Rather than scramble to get to a payment center by 5, you simply turn to your trusty smart phone, right where you are, and pay the bill online.

Welcome to cloud computing, where software and information are stored on the Web and accessible through multiple devices, including smart phones, wherever the Internet is available.

From a business perspective, the cloud - essentially, the Web - saves customers money by eliminating the need to purchase computing infrastructure and allowing them to simply rent it from a cloud provider such as Microsoft Azure. It affords small businesses, especially, the chance to cut costs by outsourcing those infrastructure needs - servers, disk drives, software - and pay for only what they need and use.

"Businesses no longer have to worry about their major IT resources and facility upgrades, which usually require careful planning and major budget spending," said Kenji Yoshigoe, assistant professor for computer science in the College of Engineering & Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "Instead, they can rent more resources to meet their demands as their businesses grow."

Of course, there's a side to the cloud on which the sun doesn't always shine. Last fall, whether they wanted one or not, users of T-Mobile's Sidekick smart phone were treated to a crash course in the dark side of cloud computing.

The tutorial took place the first week of October when a Microsoft server failure - or, as many speculate, a botched upgrade with no working backup - led to a massive service interruption and loss of users' personal data. Much of the data was eventually restored, but the initial loss and service outage shook industry confidence in the cloud to the core.


The Next Big Hype?

Depending on whom you talk to, the cloud represents either the future or the latest round of hype that also entails some risk.

Either way, it's more integrated into people's lives than most realize.

"Cloud computing is much more prevalent than you might think," said Steve Hankins, founder of Accio, a Fayetteville technology-management firm. "A huge number of Web sites are hosted in the cloud - Google search, Google Docs, Bing, Amazon Web services, YouTube. A large number of e-commerce applications are hosted in the cloud. Financial applications hosted there are growing rapidly - one example being Netsuite.

"Most of an individual's Internet use today involves cloud computing."



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