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What is “the Cloud”? And what is it not?

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Clouds on summer sky (Photo: fastjel)

The Cloud – One of the hottest buzzwords and most abused in describing products or services recently. In this article I would like to mix facts with personal experiences I made, in order to assist everyone, who would like to find out what the cloud is and does and the things that is does not do (hence the title). Cloud has been buzzing around for a while now but when I witnessed both my parents talking about “the cloud” and how they use it in private I understood that this technology has arrived in mainstream and it is here for good.

Cloud??

So what is the cloud in few words? The cloud, or cloud computing is a technology design to enable users working with solutions independent from device, location and network. Of course there are specialisations with a larger or smaller focus on one or two subjects but in general this is it.

Origin of the Term

There are many theories on the origin of the term, yet there is no proven story. Feel free to check some good options on the Wikipedia article for cloud computing. My theory is that it developed from the use of cloud clip-arts and stencils in technical drawings or presentations, created to visualise a network setup. I am sure that even before the term became a buzzword, most of you have seen presentations with little black boxes, switches and routers in and around a large cloud to set a virtual border between realms.

Is the Cloud something new?

I am afraid it is not. The ideas and designs for such concepts have already been around since the 1950s but like with many breakthroughs in the user world, it required certain cultural and technological thresholds to be reached before the adoption could take place on wide-scale.

What is the Cloud?

  • Agility – The cloud is agile and therefore allows users to upscale or downscale their service based on business demand. Further the actual hardware, used to host a virtual machine, can be re-purposed if necessary. This is however not a cloud-only benefit, please read further down on infrastructure virtualisation.
  • Availability – Services have the technological possibility of being available independent from devices, network and location. This is of course relative to the design of each service along with its purpose but technically this is no limitation. For instance you can use cloud video conferencing services to join any enterprise-grade video conference call from your smartphone, notebook, office workstation, tablet or even from a private computer at your home or maybe somewhere else. Of course your conference partner needs to have their own environment set up to accept connections from outside in general. Cloud technology is not a wall-breaker and cannot bypass security of an organisation, if they don’t allow such connections by policy.
  • Business Continuity – Cloud services are set up with redundancy and failover automation in place. So that even if single devices would fail, users would not notice and can proceed using the service. Such reliability would traditionally cost a lot of money when investing in owned or dedicated infrastructure black-boxes.
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Asus product presentation event of cloud-enabled tablet device with Windows 8 (Photo: Tecdencias)

What is the Cloud NOT?

  • Cloud = VirtualisationVirtualisation of infrastructure is a great way of deploying new solutions and upgrading your environment. But if you do this within your WAN this does not automatically mean you are using the “cloud”. You are just virtualising your infrastructure. Fair and square.
  • “No more hardware” – Well that’s a lie. Using software solutions or virtual infrastructure there will still always be servers and databases that require a physical body. Only the deployment and usage is changed but there will always be hardware. You might not own the hardware and you will most likely never see or touch it but it’s there, somewhere in a physical data centre.
  • Grid computing – No, grid computing is not the same as cloud computing in my opinion. Even though, it might be its scientific opposite. Where grid computing allows many computing units to work on a common target (e.g. movie rendering in render farms or Bitcoin mining), cloud computing allows a single user to utilise just any infrastructure in the pool offered by the cloud service provider to achieve their objective.
  • “Private Cloud” needs to be on-premises – No that’s not correct even though it seems to be a common assumption. A cloud service can be deployed dedicated for your organisation without anyone else having access to it, but the location of the physical hardware is irrelevant in order to provide that. In most cases the service provider will utilise hardware that is physically near to the user base in order to avoid performance issues that could occur on long “open internet” routes.

Challenges of Cloud Technology

  • Security – Any cloud service can be set up in secure manner if the solution and the environment of the clients allow it.
  • Privacy – Yes, privacy is a hot topic nowadays. But actually, it always were even in pre-internet age. Privacy is nothing impossible even in the cloud, even in the internet if you choose the right service provider. And if you are looking for good providers but affordability is a concern, make sure that your selected partner has a few good reference clients to show-case to you.
  • Compliance – When you are in phase 2 of the provider selection, bring in the techies of your organisation to make sure all offered functions and features are compliant to any active IT security policies that you need to consider.
  • Vendor Strategy – Cloud providers equal single vendor lock-in? Yes, it can be the case but if you want to avoid that, talk about this particular subject with your provider candidates. A few providers out there have established alliances and offer support to avoid any lock-ins.
  • Online works, offline it doesn’t – Depending on what your solution looks like make sure that your workforce  can use the solution when they are online and when they are offline. For instance when changing a file being on a flight, the data should update and synchronise itself in the cloud again when they are online. However there are some services which this does not apply to such as real-time communication (e.g. WebRTC, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging).

Examples of Public Cloud Solutions

Summary

I hope this cleared some confusion around cloud terminology and technology. Further I hope it helped you through your process of picking a good service provider for your organisation if that was your objective. Further I would like to thank Simon Dudley of LifeSize and Phil Karcher of Forrester Research for hosting the webinar, which sparked the inspiration to write this article. LifeSize is often arranging interesting webinars and announces them on their social media platforms. Maybe I will see you on their next event – until then.

Have anything to add or feel I got the wrong picture? You are welcome to comment below and join the discussion. We at Telepresence24.com love your feedback!

What is Telemedicine?

The term telemedicine is currently a big buzzword and has been written about by renowned press, such as the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The first use of telemedicine and hence the use of the term too dates back a couple of years ago though. Generally the term telemedicine describes an approach where the physician is physically separated from his patient while examining or diagnosing him.

Through substantial improvements of modern video conferences and steady enhancement of IP networks worldwide, telemedicine has become a lot more important again. Telemedicine has been further professionalized driven by big countries and regions with a comparably low population density. Telemedicine can be used to make decisions essential to human life faster and for first diagnoses. Experts can consulted at a cheap price. Pioneers in telemedicine are the USA, Australia or the Scandinavian countries.

Modern video conference systems are often used as technical platforms, since they already offer many important features for telemedicine. Among the most important features are an optimal HD video conference quality for point-to-point connections and video conferences with more participants as well as the possibility to exchange files, x-rays or blood levels via video conference (Desktop Sharing). Especially video conference services that can be operated with different devices offer a good solution for telemedicine. Physicians can communicate with the patient via video conference from the meeting room, while the patient himself sits at home in front of his PC. Furthermore a specialist could be consulted via iPad while using the Wireless connection of his hotel.

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Example of Telemedicine:
Concept Art of Sarah Kaiser

Easy usability of video conference solutions is essential. The target group often exceeds the 60 years and is not used to handling modern equipment. Simple installation and self-explanatory user interfaces are hence crucial aspects for the deployment of telemedicine. Video conference solutions with a relatively low bandwidth should be preferred, since many patients will not have broadband Internet connections.

Telemedicine is used more often in Germany as well. Possibilities to make use of it are manifold. Physicians draw on systems for exchanging information with international colleagues. Patients can be dialled in for precaution, diagnosis and after treatment via the telemedicine system. Live broadcasts from the surgery to a lecture hall of a university are possible.

Despite the many possibilities to use telemedicine it has not spread as widely yet. The reservations can be explained with lacking experiences and high initial costs. Physicians increasingly look for easy solutions that can be rented and only cause relatively small costs per month.

Video conference hardware providers and video conference service providers have to take these requirements into account. Only some service providers are able to offer first class telemedicine concepts at a moderate price level already today.

Due to rising quality and lower costs of telemedicine and video conference services, also physicians in Germany will see the advantages of technical advancements for their patients and themselves in this sector and eventually integrate these developments in their daily processes.