Guide to cloud computing

The market is getting crowded with Web-based software and storage offerings. Here’s what you need to know about the cloud computing strategies of Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and five other leading vendors.

When people talk about “plugging into the IT cloud,” they generally have something very simple in mind – browser access to an application hosted on the Web. Cloud computing is certainly that, but it’s also much more. What follows is the longer, more detailed explanation.
With so much happening in the technology industry around cloud computing, InformationWeek set out to define the megatrend in a way that helps IT professionals not only understand the nuances, but also make informed decisions about when and where to use cloud services in lieu of on-premises software and systems. Cloud computing represents a new way, in some cases a better and cheaper way, of delivering enterprise IT, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, as we learned in a discussion with a few yet-to-be-swayed CXOs. The venue was the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, where InformationWeek and TechWeb, our parent company, brought together senior technologists from the California Public Utilities Commission, Northeastern University in Boston, and Sudler & Hennessy to engage leading cloud vendors in an open forum on The Cloud.

Everyone agreed that cloud services such as Amazon Web Services, Google Apps, and Salesforce. com CRM have become bona fide enterprise options, but there were also questions about privacy, data security, industry standards, vendor lock-in, and high-performing apps that have yet to be vaporized as cloud services. (For a recap of that give and take, see “Customers Fire A Few Shots At Cloud Computing”)
If we learned anything from our Enterprise 2.0 cloud forum, it’s that IT departments need to know more. Our approach here is to look at cloud computing from the points of view of eight leading

vendors. In doing so, we’re leaving out dozens of companies that have a role to play, but what we lack in breadth, we hope to compensate for in depth.

And this analysis is just the beginning of expanded editorial coverage by InformationWeek on cloud computing. Visit our just-launched Cloud Computing blog on InformationWeek. com, and sign up for our new weekly newsletter, Cloud Computing Report. We’re also developing video content, an in-depth InformationWeek Analytics report, and a live events series in the fall.

Amazon made its reputation as an online bookstore and e-retailer, but its newest business is cloud computing. One of the first vendors in this emerging market more than two years ago, Amazon is a good starting point for any business technology organization trying to decide where and when to plug into the cloud.

Amazon’s cloud goes by the name Amazon Web Services (AWS), and it consists, so far, of four core services: Simple Storage Service (S3); Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2); Simple Queuing Service; and, in beta testing, SimpleDB. In other words, Amazon now offers storage, computer processing, message queuing, and a database management system as plug-and-play services that are accessed over the Internet.
A tremendous amount of IT infrastructure is required to provide those services – all of it in Amazon data centers. Customers pay only for the services they consume: 15 cents per gigabyte of S3 storage each month, and 10 to 80 cents per hour for EC2 server capacity, depending on configuration.

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Guide to cloud computing