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Clouds & Virtualisation

graphic illustration of cloud computing

What is all this cloud stuff? How does it affect my web site and data? Can it save me money or is it just more marketing fluff?

Recently "the cloud" has been used by Apple and Google to refer to data being stored somewhere out there and accessible from whichever device you like. You will also see lots of hosting companies offering you virtual servers and cloud computing. What does it all mean?

A web site used to be provided by software running on a server somewhere. Your browser would ask for a web page and the software on the server would assemble the information and send it to you. For a popular web site, one server wouldn't be enough and there would be several servers linked together. Your browser's request for a web page would go to whichever server was least busy. A really popular web site would have dozens of servers ready to answer web page requests. Unfortunately, this often meant paying for lots of servers to do nothing just in case thousands of people turned up unexpectedly (for example, everyone checking the bbc web site when they arrived at work).

Virtualisation is an extra layer of software that allows one server to pretend to be several servers. The real server can divide it's time between the pretend (or virtual) servers as it sees fit. It can also copy (or clone) the virtual servers and send the copy to another real server. By doing this it is very easy to go from one server to many servers in a few minutes. If your web site becomes popular overnight you can cope. If a real server breaks down, a clone of the virtual servers can be started on another real server and your web site is still available. It also means that hosting companies can charge you only the time (or storage) that your virtual server uses rather than for lots of spare capacity sitting idle just in case.

Are all clouds the same?

There are several cloud services provided by Amazon, Apple, Google, Rackspace and many smaller hosting companies. Each cloud is a large number of real servers that run virtual servers between them. You can buy as much or as little time or storage as you want and have multiple copies of your data exist somewhere in the cloud in case something goes wrong. However, the different clouds vary. In particular, the level of control they provide for public and private data are very different.

So where is my data?

One downside of all this virtualisation is that you don't really know where your data is. In some cases, this can become a legal problem. For example, if it is personal data then where the server is located affects which data protection rules apply, which government organisations can demand to see it and what the cloud owner can do with your data. Would you upload photos of your children to a web site that might store it on a server in Bangkok or would you prefer a web site that guarantees your pictures stay on a server in the UK and which obeys EU data protection legislation?

We can help!

Having worked with virtualisation for many years Brighter Working can help you to avoid the pitfalls and ensure that it makes your business simpler and more cost effective rather than just adding another layer of complexity.