Cloud computing does not take place in the ionosphere, despite its allusion to sky-bound natural forms. “What it really is,” says Paul Boyer, executive director of sales at Ancero, “is a new computing model. It is any service or application that operates over an Internet connection, allowing access from any computer or mobile device that has Web access.”

Translated to what this new technological phenomenon means to businesses, cloud computing allows the purchase of what used to be standalone technology — including computer infrastructure — as a service.

When a business is being inundated with spam, for example, the company used to buy a standalone spam filter to handle spam for its computer network. But now things are different.

“Those solutions are all cloud-based today,” says Boyer. A company pays a set, per-user monthly fee and the spam is filtered in the cloud, that is, at the huge data center where the software resides. “The spam never gets to your facility,” he says.

Boyer will be one of the panelists talking about “Cloud Migration: Is It Right for You?” Thursday, March 29, from 8 to 10 a.m. at Systech International, 2540 Route 130, Suite 128, in Cranbury. The moderator is Stephen Muretta, assurance partner at Ernst & Young, and the other panelist is Neil Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of Quality Technology Solutions. Cost: $25; $45, if not registered 24 hours in advance. To register, go to www.njtc.org.

What has enabled the revolution of cloud computing is virtualization, a technology whereby multiple “virtual” computers share the resources of a single physical computer.

With this technology, driven by Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix, multiple operating systems and software applications can “live” and function together on a single actual computer. When virtualization began to power huge data centers that connect to end users via the Internet, cloud computing was born.

Boyer suggests senior management should be considering how the cloud might save them money and headaches and increase efficiency when making business decisions about information technology:

Less expensive storage and safer data. Not only is the cloud a place to keep applications like spam filters, it is also an alternative for storage of electronic data. For users of the cloud, big computers no longer have to reside inside corporate real estate. “Instead of buying servers, routers, and IT equipment, you can pay for infrastructure as a service for monthly recurring fee,” explains Boyer.

Not only is space freed up on site, but fault tolerance is built in at the data center. “In your office, if there is a power outage, you’re down,” he says. “At a data center you have generator backup and dual power grids.”

If a server goes down, another server takes over, and it’s all invisible to the user. Further, the monthly fee for the cloud turns out to be 20 to 30 percent less than the cost of owning equipment in a corporate facility.

“This is what corporate America doing,” says Boyer. “Dollars have dried up for capital expenditures for IT-related infrastructure; they don’t want to buy, cool, and insure it, and have personnel maintaining it.”

The most current technology. With cloud computing, technical upgrades are part of the package, so that management does not have to waste time determining the potential business benefits of any new features.

Clouds can be private or public. With a public cloud, you are renting computing and storage capacity from a large IT infrastructure services provider, while sharing with other clients through the Internet. In a private cloud, which can be on-premises or off, you are the only tenant on the infrastructure.

A utility-based model supports bursts in computing power. Just as individuals pay only for the amount of gas and water they actually use in their homes, the same is true for businesses using the cloud.

So when a company like Hallmark needs a burst of available gigabytes around Christmas and Valentine’s Day when they send out millions of e-cards, they can turn on multiple servers and ramp up computing power on the fly.

“The data centers are built to handle this,” says Boyer. “At the end of 48 hours they can spin back down to their normal business utilization model, and they didn’t have to buy all that infrastructure.”

VOIP savings. A hot part of the industry is VOIP (Voice over Internet protocol), which typically saves companies about 40 percent when they migrate from traditional long distance services. Instead of being charged for usage, a company pays a monthly recurring fee for unlimited calls.

They don’t buy any hardware and don’t have to worry about moves, adds, or changes: when a person moves to a new office or even goes home, the phone has “follow me” features that allow it to simply be plugged in.

For Mount Laurel-based Ancero, which offers business-class VOIP service, VOIP business grew 600 percent last year. Distinguishing this from “the Skypes of the world,” Boyer notes that the only time a user is on the Internet is going from the customer’s location to Ancero’s data center; from there the call is transmitted on the public switch telephone network.

Boyer grew up in Haddon Heights in South Jersey, where his father was a commercial pipe fitter in the union. He graduated from St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania, in 1981 with a degree in business management.

His first position was at Cable and Wireless, where he started as an account executive, leaving five years later as national account manager. From 1987 to 1990 he was director of sales at United Telephone/Sprint.

In 1990 he left to cofound the first Internet service provider in the Delaware Valley, International Distribution and Consulting, or IDCI, where he served as chief executive officer until the company was bought out by PSINet, another internet service provider, in 1997.

He then moved to ATX Communications, where he was the vice president of national accounts and ran the systems integration division.

At the beginning of 2002 he became a partner at Ancero, a managed service provider that monitors and manages networks and technical devices for corporations and also has its own network control center that never closes.

Its 30-plus engineers are on hand at all times to check on alarms and metrics and ensure the health of a customer’s network; if problems cannot be fixed remotely, repair people are sent to the data center.

Ancero also has a professional services division, whose engineers spec out customer needs and requirements and deploy technology; this may include servers, operating systems, security solutions, VOIP, and contingency and disaster recovery.

The explosion of cloud technology is changing how IT resources are purchased and deployed, and also where people in the technology space will be employed. In the small- to mid-market space, says Boyer, companies are outsourcing IT to companies like Ancero and letting the internal IT employees go.

“In large companies,” he continues, “IT people are still there but they can effectively do more with less by utilizing cloud services. They are putting pieces of the network in the cloud — a hybrid model.”

He emphasizes that the shift toward a service-provider model is a business decision, not a technical one.

This is not to say that there will be no jobs in the IT sector. “We can’t hire engineers fast enough at Ancero,” says Boyer. “Instead of corporate America, service providers are hiring them.”

Summarizing the different formats currently available for securing IT services, Boyer uses a transportation metaphor.

If you own your car and are fully responsible for its operation and maintenance, that’s like traditional IT, with hardware and software in house, he says.

Or you can lease a car, letting someone else maintain it for a fixed fee and you return it at the end of the lease. That’s like managed services, where all the service is included to support internal devices in exchange for a monthly per-device fee.

Or you can take a taxi, paying for only the mileage and time that you use, and when you’re done, someone else gets in the taxi; that’s like cloud services: a utility-based model where you are only charged for what you use.

Finally, you can take a public bus for a flat fee, going where it’s headed along with everyone else in the vehicle; that’s like software as a service, which is also referred to as a public cloud. An example is salesforce.com, where anybody who pays the monthly fee can use it.

According to Gartner’s research, the cloud was responsible for $55 billion in domestic revenue in 2011. It is also estimated that 70 percent of corporations will use the public or private cloud over the next two years. The cloud beckons, but each company will have to decide when and how it makes the leap.

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