What is cloud anyway

Cloud computing for project managersCredit: javrsmith

In the history of computing, a few themes have been invented and re-invented, often with different names. Cloud computing is one of these. It refers to a large number of computers, in distant locations, used by people to accomplish their tasks. In practice, this is established by having computers linked by the Internet, each performing a specialized function for its users. The term "cloud" refers to the relative anonymity that the serving computers have. This is due to the integration of the computers, integration that lets users concentrate on the work to be performed not on the computer environment. 

In the beginning of technology, cloud computing was all that there was available. In those days, however, there was a single computer acting as the cloud. Users would employ various devices to interact with the computer which could be located far away. Applications would run to help people perform their work. All materials were stored on the distant computer, safe from local problems such as destruction of the users' devices. A staff of professionals cared for the central computer to ensure maximum security of the hardware and the created materials.

More advanced technology allowed for the central computer to be paired, tripled or joined with even more computers in a processing network. Various strategies allowed users to interact with one or more distant computers. Sometimes, users would use one computer for one function and other times, several computers would co-operate to accomplish a single function. Alternatively, users might use several computers to accomplish several functions. There were many configurations used depending on the capability of the computers and of the system designers.

Around the same time, the personal computer became much more capable of serious project work. Many people used a PC to develop project materials. The computer costs were generally lower that those paid by larger agencies. Of course, the personal computer concentrated project documents into one place that was vulnerable to the risks listed above.

With the advent of better networking, technology allowed for the distribution of functionality into a seemless collaboration of computers. This would allow applications to concentrate on service and for the computer infrastructure to handle the processing needs. Usually, one or more computers would be used to handle user administration such as logins and menus. Another set of computers would handle data storage and validation. Additional sets could be established to distribute the processing load as needed to ensure maximum service to a large number of users.

As computers became more powerful, so did the Internet. Now, cloud computing refers to the same concept of multiple computers working together to serve users but at a level scarcely imagined by early application designers.

Use cloud computing on your next project

Consider the risk of storing all project materials on a personal computer. The device would be vulnerable to loss by theft, fire, flooding, malicious software attack and more. The cost to replace project materials could be amazingly expensive, especially if the project is of large size. Unfortunately, while backup strategies exist, many computer users, (even experienced project managers), are not diligent enough to use such strategies to protect their data.

Instead of relying on a personal computer, consider the use of cloud computing. With this strategy, the project materials are never stored on a vulnerable platform. Depending on the cloud used, project data would be stored in a professional network, or on the Internet, in a facility designed to protect computer servers. By using a computer cloud, project materials would be protected by default, without further effort by the project team.

Your organization may have their own cloud established. This often is the case for larger agencies. If so, get to know the structure and use the available resources. Using an agency's cloud does not immediately solve the problem of project material protection. Project managers should check with technical staff to find out about local protection mechanisms. When is the cloud backed up? This is important because many computer facilities backup disks in the overnight hours. This means that material created each day is potentially vulnerable to loss for quite a few hours. Consider a document that is completed in the morning. That document exists on the agency cloud for perhaps 20 hours or more before the nightly backup protects it. If the cloud happens to be destroyed during that time period, the document would be lost and the project team would need to re-create it.

Perhaps you may find during discussions with your technical staff that your agency uses backup and redundancy with their cloud computer system. This is the best news a project manager could receive. It gives added protection to project materials. The strategy establishes a cloud that duplicates data stored within it. This gives multiple storage repositories for each document. Standard backups are done each night but data created each day is stored in multiple places. This protects the document since it is unlikely that all copies of the document would be destroyed in the time period between creation and backup. Unlikely, but possible if a catastrophic event were to occur. It is up to the project manager to balance all risks and take reasonable steps to protect project materials.

There are now easy ways to use cloud computing on the Internet. Even for an agency that maintains a robust cloud, with redundancy, Internet cloud computing may be useful for project managers. The project team could store all project documentation on the agency cloud. The materials would be protected in a secure environment. Regular backups would protect the created items. Redundancy might be present that protects materials on the first day of their existence. A project team member could still employ an Internet cloud server to further protect documents. Each day, or on another established frequency, the team member could cause the materials to be copied via secure link to the Internet cloud.

Luckily, there now exists automatic tools that help project managers utilize Internet cloud resources. Obviously, these tools are particularly helpful to those who do not have an agency cloud. Services such as Dropbox provide tools that install on local computers. With them, project team members would see a local folder that automatically synchronizes with the cloud on the Internet.