Neil is a solicitor working with a reputable Solicitors Company. This morning he received an email from his manager asking to prepare a list of all clients who have their cases pending. The company has been growing fast recently and so is the number of clients. The company maintains the client records in a large Microsoft Excel sheet. Searching this sheet and shortlisting the clients with pending cases is cumbersome and time consuming. So, for obvious reason, Neil is not in a good mood this morning.

“Can I finish the task today?”, “Should I distribute the task to the trainee solicitors?” – All these questions are going through his mind while he is sorting out a few pending tasks from yesterday.

It’s lunch time, Neil has not started the task that his manager assigned to him this morning. He has decided to start it after lunch. While he is waiting for his food at the café, he thought to call his friend Jenny and seek some help. Jenny works for an IT firm and is a computer geek. Neil calls Jenny and explains his situation.

Can Jenny suggest to Neil an efficient way to finish his task today?

Well, Jenny is in shock after hearing that the company uses Excel sheets to store and manage almost five thousand client records. She has come up with a suggestion to rescue Neil, not only this time, but any time in the future. Her suggestion is to set up a database and store all client information there, so that the information can be easily and quickly stored and retrieved.

“How can I set up a database, we do not have a dedicated IT person in our company, my company will not agree to invest a lot to set it up and I do not have any expertise in such things.” – Neil replied to Jenny on her suggestion.

“You can use a cloud-based database service, such as ‘SimpleDB’, ‘Amazon RDS’ offered by Amazon Web Services, or ‘SQL Database’ offered by Microsoft. This way your company will get rid of the complexity of installing and maintaining any database software of their own – the cloud will take care of the database and the company will pay for the amount of service they use.” – Jenny explained.

“Ah OK! To be honest, I have no idea how cloud services work.” – Neil replied confusingly.

“OK, let me explain it – the concept of cloud services is similar to the concepts of your power or gas supply services, which you use as pay-as-a-you-go basis, you pay only for the amount of power/gas you use without having to install or maintain the services yourself. In cloud, the services are accessed over the internet.” – Jenny explained.

“Thanks, that’s a nice explanation, you made it easy for me to understand. So, may I know a bit more about ‘cloud’? I mean what services does the cloud provide in general?” – Neil asked with curiosity.

“Well, there are many cloud services that are on the market. For example, the cloud-based database service that I am suggesting to you is termed, Database as a Service (DaaS). However, Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are the popular cloud services. Do you want to learn more?” – Jenny started to introduce the available cloud services.

“Yes! – this will be useful for me, please continue.” – Neil replied.

“OK! So, through SaaS you can access any third-party software or application over the internet. You don’t have to install, set up, or run those applications in your computer, you can simply use them if you are connected to the internet.” – Jenny continued.

“Can we consider Gmail as SaaS?” – Neil asked.

“Yes, definitely! Any email service that is not hosted on your computer can be considered as SaaS.” – Jenny replied.

“Google App Engine offered by Google comes under PaaS, which provides computing platforms such as operating system, programming language execution environment, database, etc. That means you don’t have to own a computing platform to develop and run web application, web service, etc.” – Jenny continued.

“OK, that means if someone wants to develop any web application they can simply go to Google App Engine using a browser and start coding for the application without installing any software and programming language environment?” – Neil asked with excitement.

“Exactly! As simple as that.” – Jenny answered.

“Now, in addition to the services in terms of software and platform, cloud provides computing infrastructure including computing resources such as CPU, memory, disk space, etc. Virtual machines (VMs) from Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure come under IaaS, which provide computing resources on a pay-as-you-go basis. That means you don’t have to buy a computer to use computing resources, you can simply rent the resources to do your job like hosting your company website, storing client data, etc.”

“OK, so who uses IaaS in general?” – Neil asked with curiosity.

“Well, generally, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) use IaaS. SMEs do not wish to invest in high end computers and human resources to maintain the computing infrastructure. Instead they rent VMs from public cloud providers like Amazon and Google to get the job done. Importantly, SMEs like the concept of ‘auto-scaling’ provided by IaaS, which means they can scale up or scale down their resources as per their requirements, without wasting money on unused resources.” – Jenny elaborated.

“Thank you so much Jenny, I am not sure if I will be able to remember all of it but the information has been very useful!” – Neil said.

Neil ended the call, his problem has not been sorted, but he has a better understanding of key cloud services and he knows how DaaS can solve his problem in the future.

It’s 1:30pm, Neil did not realise his food was ready almost 20 minutes ago. He grabs it and takes a seat in the corner and reflects on his discussion with Jenny.

So, this is a story of Neil who has been introduced to the major cloud computing services by his friend Jenny over a phone call. In my next blog I will explain how cloud computing services provide solutions to the challenges that occur in the distributed manufacturing aspect of the Biohaviour project.

Sakil Barbhuiya