Why Should You Care About Cloud Computing?

  • January 7, 2012
  • Forrest
  • General Interest

Jobber is a web app that runs in the “cloud”. You may have heard the term before, but why should you care?

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a term used by a lot of companies that provide software as a service instead of a product. Jobber is an example of a company that operates “in the cloud.” Instead of buying servers, we rent computing power by the hour. We also rent storage space by the GB, which we can access over the Internet. This keeps us from having to purchase and maintain our own hardware — an inherently costly and maintenance intensive endeavour. At Jobber we rent our computing power from Amazon (yes the book sellers) through a third party named Heroku.

How do companies rent you computing power?

While there are many cloud computing providers, one of the biggest is Amazon. Amazon has one of the most extensive computing infrastructures in the world, built originally just to sell books on-line. The Amazon computer system is exceptionally stable. They have dozens of data centers (warehouses of computers) all over the world, and all those computers work together to share the load. If any machine goes down, the others pick up the slack. As a result, although they may have a number of broken pieces of hardware at any one time, the end-users — us and you — never experience downtime due to hardware failures.

Amazon recognized the value of their computer network and saw a business opportunity. They created an interface that let other companies rent computing time on their hardware and called it EC2. Around the same time, they started renting out storage space as well, calling it S3.

Why do you care?

Cheaper: Traditionally, large up-front expenditures for servers and equipment kept smaller startups from being able to even get off the ground. If they did, they had to price their products to re-coup their initial losses. By renting our computing power, we only pay for what we use. This lets us put more money into developers to build and maintain Jobber instead of our infrastructure. It also lets us keep the price of Jobber low: about “half a tank of gas” per month.

Stable: As I mentioned at the top, Amazon runs thousands of computers to share the workload. If any single unit fails, other machines pick up the slack without ever skipping a beat. Same with storage; Your data is replicated onto many hard drives in different geographic regions, ensuring that your data is always safe.

Scalable: Right now we have plenty of power to accommodate our existing customers. What if things start growing even faster? Buying new hardware, configuring it, and connecting it to the system takes time and a big up-front cost. With virtualization technology in the cloud, I can literally move a slider on my screen to increase the processing power behind Jobber. This ensures that we’re always prepared for a sudden spike in growth. If we get hit with a sudden wave of temporary traffic (maybe we got featured in a magazine), we can increase the server power for a few days while traffic is really hot.

Secure: Amazon and Heroku have some of the best computer security experts on the planet, ensuring their networks are safe, virus free, and up-to-date. They also have very intense armed security guards at each of their data centers. Most of us can’t come anywhere close to being able to afford that kind of protection for our home or office computer hardware.

I realize this is a very quick overview, but hopefully it has you convinced about the benefits of using a web application in the cloud over traditional software solutions. If you have any other questions, please ask them in the comments. I love talking about this stuff 😉

Forrest — Lead Developer of Jobber

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  • Alyssa

    Great article! Thank you for the explanation… I have been wondering what “cloud” computing is for some time.

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