Cloud Computing and the Impact on Computer Hardware

Today’s technology headlines are filled with news and analysis about how enterprises should deal with cloud computing. What is it? According to Wikipedia, cloud computing is “the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers over a network (usually the Internet)”. That’s the “public version” of cloud computing, but there is also the “private version” of cloud computing whereby computing operations are outsourced to a trusted third party – usually companies with large facilities or “server farms” to securely host and manage these services. According to IDC estimates, $13 billion will be spent worldwide this year for private cloud computing services, and that number is expected to grow. The pressure is on for IT managers and CIOs to decide what to do: keep the status quo, use the public cloud, private cloud, or some combination.

For the enterprise environment, cloud computing (public or private cloud) is enabled through a process of virtualization and scaling of computer resources. To move to cloud computing, decisions need to be made about access, security, and hardware infrastructure. It is a complex problem, but presents opportunities to increase computing capacity quickly while saving money in the process.

Benefits of Cloud Computing:

  • -Saves money due to lower investment in server resources
  • -Provides access to greater, perhaps more powerful, computing assets than may be available internally
  • -Enables collaboration among business partners
  • -Facilitates data backup, recovery and business continuity
  • -Reduces the need for IT staff to monitor, manage and maintain computer resources, freeing them up to focus on other projects

Risks Surrounding Cloud Computing:

  • -Uptime, availability, and reliability
  • -Data security
  • -Access control and user authentication
  • -Privacy and identity protection (of employees and customers)
  • -Regulatory compliance (varies by industry)

An IT manager or CIO needs to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks, which can be significant with the public cloud. There are whole new industries that have evolved to address the risks of cloud computing: advanced network security appliances, specialized encryption software and systems, and consulting services or “cloud brokers” who can find the best technology solutions to mitigate these risks.

So how does a data center within an enterprise move from a client-server model to cloud computing, and what impact does it have on the computer hardware business?

Once the decision is made to adopt some level of cloud computing, the challenge for IT is to make sure that uptime is still maintained, and redundant systems are in place during transition. Migrating to a cloud computing model should be done incrementally. An IT manager can choose one application such as email and migrate it to cloud computing, while everything else remains on the main network. (This assumes, of course, that emails are not going to contain company-confidential data or customer information that falls under the purview of regulatory compliance.)

The good news for the computer hardware industry is that no matter where the computing takes place, it will still require some form of desktop or portable computers for users to access the cloud – whether public or private. It would seem logical that cloud computing might only require thin-client technology because the work would be done on the server side; the user would only need a network connection and not much else. Some computer manufacturers are indeed beginning to build thin-client-enabled hardware devices for this purpose (and some of them are all-in-one PCs with low-power processors such as those from Acer). Are IT Managers going this route for new cloud computing projects? Not necessarily. Because they still have concerns about public or private cloud reliability and availability (risk number 1 on the above list), IT Managers still want client desktop PCs powerful enough to run on their own in case of any downtime or problems with the cloud network – it’s their backup plan.

Some IT managers have also been seeing an interesting trend – using powerful desktop PCs (with big CPUs and advanced graphics) as workstations to tap into the high-performance server applications in the cloud and bring new applications and even more computing power to the desktop. This would suggest that high-performance PCs and workstations will be in serious demand in the cloud computing era. Some of these powerful desktop computers are also all-in-one PC designs with higher-performance CPUs and graphics, like Cybernet’s iOne-H5.

With the rate of cloud computing adoption so far, it appears that there will be a continuing demand for desktop PCs and workstations. Whether they are thin client devices, all-in-ones, desktop PCs with powerful processors and graphics, or high-performance workstations, the demand for such computer hardware will continue well into the future.