Advantages of the cloud

The cloud is definitely the marketing phrase of the moment. It seems everything is in the cloud, or cloud-enabled, or powered by the cloud. Even though the term may be overused to the point of annoyance, there is one very real advantage to using the cloud:  elasticity. Elasticity is a key advantage of the cloud and using it has a number of benefits.

What do you mean the cloud is elastic?

In terms of the cloud, elasticity refers to controlling the computing resources needed to run an application. Specifically, the ability to quickly commission or decommission computing environments based on your precise needs. Taking it a step further, auto-elasticity is a set of programming interfaces that allow your applications to grow/shrink amount of processing power dynamically.

Auto-elasticity allows developers to create applications that can provision computer resources dynamically – growing in times of consumption and shrinking when not used. You might be thinking “hey, this sounds a bit like virtualization.”

The cloud is different from virtualization in the following ways:  a.) the computer resources you need may be provisioned/decomissioned in seconds or minutes  b.) the infrastructure, computer hardware, and software stack are not owned by you c.) cloud resources are charged similar to utilities and the bill is based on resource consumption.

Elasticity must be built in web application

Just because you have an app in the cloud doesn’t mean it is taking advantage of the cloud. Software developers must use the application programming interfaces (API’s) provided by the cloud service provider to take full advantage. Any good cloud service provider will have an API that deals with provisioning or capacity.

Cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Joyent, Azure, and Rackspace, to name a few will offer their own API’s to access their platforms cloud services. It is important to research each service provider thoroughly to ensure it is a proper fit for the application. Each provider will have a slightly different architecture and stack and therefore different performance. Developers must be aware of how long it takes to increase/decrease capacity. The benefit of elasticity may be lost if the application cannot react to the demand in a reasonable amount of time.

In addition to cloud infrastructure service providers there are also platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers such as, Google App Engine, heroku and Database-as-a-service (DaaS) providers such as, SQL Azure that provide additional cloud computing services. These additional “layers” integrate with the cloud infrastructure and can also benefit from the underlying elasticity of the cloud.

Elasticity has many benefits

Integrating a web application with cloud platform creates a number of benefits:

Scalability – Scale the web application up or down to meet demand. Since cloud services are charged as a utility, the ability to lower resource consumption when there is no demand will lower the overall computing cost of the application.

Availability – Each cloud service provider SLA is different, but all offer high availability and the ability to recommission an instance quickly in case of failure. The API may even allow developers to create additional failover services.

Capacity Management – Capacity management is used in IT to analyze the current and future computing needs of the business and making sure those needs are met in a cost effective way. The elastic cloud is a key benefit for enterprises and many already utilize the cloud to process very large data sets and run intense computations that would otherwise consume too many on-site resources. Also, the cloud service offers a platform almost impossible to outgrow. Whether it remains cost effective is a different story.

The elastic cloud – good for developers and IT

The elasticity of the cloud is a real business advantage. Developers may use API’s to control resources to scale applications to achieve better performance and availability.

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