With faster Internet connections, on-line services have evolved into new, more powerful forms. The term cloud computing refers to various services that provide IT resources on demand through the Internet. While the idea of remote access to computer resources available in other buildings is by no means new, analysts use the term cloud computing to represent the technology’s new-found potential.

Resources available on-line could be software or hardware. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a name used to describe on-line applications accessible through a browser. With SaaS, there is no installation process as the application runs only on the provider’s hardware. An example would be Google Apps – a collection of applications that include Gmail, Calendar and Docs. Application speed typically varies according to the user’s Internet connection speed and the provider’s hardware.

Some companies also use the term Platform as a Service (PaaS). This normally refers to development environments that are exclusively on-line and accessible through a browser.

Hardware resources via cloud computing is called Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Examples would be servers, processing power, storage space and network equipment. Today, practically everyone makes use of some form of on-line storage space, for example for data backup or Email. But more and more companies are resorting to IaaS to manage costs and increase flexibility.

Major advantages over buying actual hardware are lower initial capital expenditure and dynamic scaling – the ability to vary hardware resources according to demand. IaaS gives companies the option to adopt a ‘pay as you grow’ model that protects against the risk of over or under investment in hardware infrastructure.

Cloud services have the advantage of being accessible through any on-line computer. This facilitates co-ordination between different users and eliminates most compatibility problems. Users are also less vulnerable when their own hardware fails. The flip-side is more reliance on third parties – service outage is not unheard of. After all, everything on the cloud remains housed in hardware somewhere around the globe. Some users are understandably reluctant to let essential data and services out of their grasp. Another problem is that with increasing reliance on the cloud, Internet downtime can create major productivity paralysis.

Like any other computer technology, the adoption of cloud computing should be subject to a risk-benefit analysis. Although there are pitfalls, the advantages make it an increasingly attractive proposition for many.

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