First, since this is really the first blog to explore the value of cloud computing within the world of ecommerce, let’s put forth a general definition of cloud computing. For the most part I like to go with the National Institute of Science and Technology, or NIST, who defines cloud computing as having the following characteristics:
- On-demand self-service.
- Broad network access.
- Resource pooling.
- Rapid elasticity.
- Measured service.
Cloud computing’s value is the ability to expand access and provision resources as you need them, and then have those resources expand as the application (in this case, ecommerce) needs to expand to support an increasing or “bursty” processing load. In the world of ecommerce where the margins are typically razor thin, the use of cloud computing provides on-demand access to application servers, databases, even middleware as needed. If deployed correctly, the use of infrastructure hosted in cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, should function as if it’s in your own data center.
While the value proposition of cloud computing is generally clear, the use case for eCommerce can be…well…cloudy. The value as I see it would be in the “rapid elasticity” that cloud computing brings, allowing those who need the extra capacity to get the extra capacity without driving waves and waves of software and hardware purchases, or worse, having to acquire more data center space. When using cloud computing, the extra capacity is on-line and ready for use minutes after you need it, which is perhaps the most compelling reason to leverage a cloud computing model.
Those who move portions of their ecommerce systems to cloud computing have to evaluate their own requirements. I see the need for cloud computing arising when the answer is “Yes” to at least two of the following questions:
1. Do you have excess capacity standing by (e.g., idle servers and databases) for the time when your ecommerce systems need the additional processing power, such as the holidays?
2. Are security requirements around the information you retain and/or process low to medium?
3. Will your business benefit by the preservation of capital?
4. Will cost reductions have a direct benefit when considering the profitability of the company?
It’s interesting to note that the questions above are more about the business benefit of cloud computing than the technological advantages, and that’s the way those who maintain and deploy ecommerce systems should look at them. Clearly the goal is to be more effective and efficient with the same architecture, technology, and deployment models you support today. Perhaps therein lies the intersection of cloud computing and ecommerce.
This post was contributed by guest columnist David Linthicum. David is a cloud computing and SOA expert and author of several books on Information Technology.