There was a time not long past, but eons ago in the world of computing, when companies’ data needs were centralized. Before the advent of PCs, mainframe computers were the order of the day, and ordinary users communicated with the mainframes using dumb terminals that had no computing power of their own.
Then, in the 1980s, along came cheap PCs that put the power of the mainframe on everyone’s desktop, and the era of centralized computing came to an end. Except it didn’t. As it turns out, managing all those decentralized computers is a headache and an enormous expense, and remote computing is making a huge comeback.
Joe Budelis, a telecommunications consultant, will share the ins and outs of cloud computing at a free presentation at the Princeton PC Users Group Tuesday, February 25, at 7 p.m. at the Mercer County Library in Lawrenceville. Visit www.ppcug-nj.org or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The term “cloud computing” covers a whole range of services, Budelis says, but they all revolve around the idea of remote computing. That is, letting a specialized data center handle your computing needs and using your own device to access it. In most cases, “The Cloud” is really just a metaphor for the Internet.
These services range all the way from Google Drive, a free service that allows users to store files and do word processing on Google’s giant data centers, to SalesForce, which offers companies customer relationship management software that is based in the cloud. (Free services like Google also offer paid versions with premium features.)
Budelis says companies are turning to these services more and more, as their computing needs grow more complex.
Call for Backup. One of the more popular cloud services is data backup and disaster recovery. Disaster recovery goes beyond having a remote backup drive. A good disaster recovery service includes backup servers and all the company’s licensed software, ready to deploy. “For a business that runs a lot of computers, if they go down, whether it be by a hurricane, a snowstorm, or a fire, to get it back up simply using the files they’ve stored off-site can take a long time,” Budelis says. “Many businesses that reach that point don’t ever recover.”
For example, if a company’s server room flooded and the staff had no disaster recovery service, they would have to go out and buy new hardware for the server, install the operating system and all their custom software, and then get their backed up data (if they had backed it up.) “Those applications are not only expensive; they require quite a bit of expertise and time to install and bring them up to date,” Budelis says.
Are you being served? Another popular option that provides redundancy is the virtual server. In the old days a small business might have its own server in a closet somewhere, or a larger company might have a server room. If the employees needed more server power, their IT department would have to buy another server and set it up. A virtual server functions just like a physical server, but it is hosted offsite by a data center or Internet service provider. Expanding the virtual server is as simple as ordering more server space.
“In minutes you can vastly increase the capacity of your computing power or storage space,” Budelis says. “It can be moved up or down as required; it’s very scalable.” The virtual server also offers redundancy, he says. Lastly, it can be cheaper to administer. “Why should a business devote personnel or hire consultants to come in to learn all the specifics about a server to do the mundane work of keeping it up, when there are services out there that can do it for them and who can do it more efficiently and more accurately and better than most individual businesses can?” Budelis says. “Especially smaller businesses.”
Desk at a Distance. The virtual desktop is an extension of the virtual server idea to the individual desktop computer. It is more or less a return to the mainframe-terminal concept, with the PC operating system existing on a remote computer that has memory and computing power to spare. The local device uses an Internet connection to operate the virtual desktop in real time, so the user experience is the same. To the user, the PC will seem fast even if it is being used over a slower connection on old hardware.
Another difference is that the virtual PC is being administered by experts who keep it up to date and secure as best they can, which is another task that can be expensive for companies to handle themselves. Virtual desktops also allow employees more flexibility. If they are not tied to their desktop machines, they can work using any computer, tablet, or smartphone, anywhere where they have an Internet connection. Budelis says these services also offer the ability to download files so someone can work on them even when they don’t have the Internet.
Phoning It In. Even phones are going to the cloud. Many companies are now offering offsite private branch exchange services, eliminating the need for companies to have their own PBX box in their office. This also offers more redundancy and flexibility, and opportunities for remote working.
Critical Pipe. In theory a company could source all of its computing and communications needs to the cloud and not have a single piece of hardware in its office other than dumb terminals. But this introduces a new vulnerability: total dependence on the Internet connection. While most companies can’t do business without an Internet connection anyway, the cloud makes it even more critical.
This risk is mitigated by the fact that most cloud services can be accessed from anywhere there is a connection — if your company loses its connection, you can just go some place that still has one and work from there.
Budelis grew up in Baltimore, where his father was a caterer. Budelis studied engineering at Johns Hopkins, and went to Harvard, where he got an ROTC commission and a doctorate in decision and control. Rather than serve in the Army, Budelis chose to work at a military research lab in Boston, which led to a job working on computer simulations in Fort Monmouth. From there, he went to work for Applied Data Research, a software company based in Princeton from the 1960s through the 1980s. He liked Princeton so much, he decided to stay for good.
Not just a computer expert, Budelis once operated a commuter airline service that flew between Princeton and Nantucket, and was the chief pilot as well as the business owner.
Budelis currently makes his living as a telecommunications consultant. His home-based company, Persimmon Telecommunications, helps companies find the telecommunications services that suit them best. He does most of his business on the West Coast, rather than locally.
Now that he works in cloud computing, he is among the many experts who see it as the wave of the future for businesses of all sizes. Says Budelis: “Enterprises and small businesses are drawn to using the cloud these days because of performance, scalability, cost savings, and reliability.”