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Avoiding the Nimbostratus

Today we are talking about clouds. Clouds come in a variety of sizes, shades and textures. Nimbostratus clouds are dark-gray and saturated with humidity. They're your classic rain clouds. Most people go through life without knowing the names of clouds.

A survey of Aestiva staff confirmed this fact. (Yes, we do bug the staff with stupid surveys from time to time. You know, it's for the blog.)

It's the same with cloud computing. Although Aestiva folks fair better in this area than most, the public generally has a fuzzy understanding of the types of cloud computing out there. Let's talk about that. (The real topic of this post..)

To be fair, a deeper understanding of cloud computing may not be important in casual conversation, but it can be important when making decisions for your organization.

Let's start with definition. Wikipedia defines "Cloud Computing" as:

"The delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients." Al-righty then. Let's jump into the cloud-o-sphere --

In today's world, where applications run over browsers, cloud computing can refer to applications installed in-house, at an off-site location or on another continent. Clouds can be categorized as follows:

-- External or Internal.
-- Proprietary, Integrated, or Non-Proprietary.
-- Single-server or Distributed.

External or Internal refers to whether the server or servers hosting the application sits outside or inside your organization. Simple enough.

Proprietary refers to networks that rely on technology proprietary to the particular cloud. For example, Amazon's EC2 services use proprietary technology. Applications running on proprietary clouds cannot move to other clouds. Integrated clouds refer to applications integrated into the network design of a cloud. Here too, the application can't be moved to another cloud, except with extreme difficulty.

Applications running on Non-Proprietary clouds can be moved between non-proprietary clouds. This situation is generally preferred, if available.

Single-server or Distributed refers to the number of servers needed to run an application. Single server applications are the easiest to maintain. They are also the most reliable. Multi-server distributed applications tout redundancy and higher capacity, but they are more complex and more prone to problems unless managed with the utmost care (not to mention mad technical skillz).

As a rule of thumb, when choosing an application, almost any application, you want to minimize cost, maximize flexibility, and minimize complexity.

Minimizing costs requires you look at both short-term and long-term expenses. If the IT overhead of an application is minimal and you have IT resources, then using an internal network for your cloud often has minimal costs and maximum flexibility. It keeps you in control and keeps you protected from the cost increases that can happen when a contract for a proprietary or integrated cloud offering ends. This may seem like a small issue, but the futures comes sooner than you might expect.

Flexibility includes the ability to move your application when needed -- at nominal cost. Cloud-integrated applications cannot be moved. These are your dark Nimbostratus - destined to rain on your parade. Be prepared to dump your application if a situation arises requiring you to move to another cloud. To maximize your flexibility, select applications that can be moved between non-proprietary external clouds or to your own server, if needed.

Minimizing complexity is another important factor. When selecting a technology, almost any technology, simpler is better.

As mentioned earlier, clouds can be single-server or distributed. A single server application is better than one spread across more servers. Of course, this is not always possible. A high-access web site that streams thousands of videos will place its applications and videos on different servers. On the other hand, a business application that serves 500 users may not need to be distributed. In general, if you are able, stick to single-server applications.

As a final comment on the subject, we would be remiss if we did not discuss where Aestiva fits into all of this. This is the Aestiva Blog, is it not? Rhetorical of course.

Aestiva has been into cloud computing since its inception in 1996; before the term "cloud computing" was coined. Our software started out browser-native and cloud-based from its inception. We operate on non-proprietary clouds. Our technology was designed to have minimal IT overhead -- which is why over half of our installs are on customer equipment. The other half are at hosting providers -- the original low-cost cloud providers. It's why Aestiva software has the lowest possible operating costs and maximum flexibility.

Update: Since the writing of this blog article Aestiva built an optimized high-speed hosting service called Aestiva.Net. Today most new installs operate on Aestiva.Net. However, you are still free to host Aestiva's Power Office-based applications at most any hosting provider.

For further information on running your Aestiva product on the cloud, speak to your Aestiva Account Coordinator.

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