The idea behind Cloud Computing is fairly simple; rather than making a large investment in hardware, software and the time involved in setting everything up… let someone else do it… virtually, on shared resources similar to an electricity provider.
Take for example, ACT…a few years back it was the application of choice for contact management. Every sales rep either had it installed on their notebook or had a support person back in the home office who had it installed on their desktop. Fast forward to today and what’s the 800 lb gorilla in the CRM space? Salesforce.com, a web based contact management system with no hardware to buy and no software to install and setup. All the hardware & software is setup and maintained by Salesforce.com at various data centers around the world. When a new version of the software is rolled out, there is NOTHING to buy. Unlike the traditional model of software with continuous updates, a la Microsoft Office, when a new version is released it will be available online and without additional cost to everyone who uses it instantly. No more calling all reps in from the field to update their laptops. Plus should one server go on the fritz or get overloaded with requests, there are many more to pickup processing cycles.
Users now login to the system via a web page and do all the work on the web. Sales rep lose their laptop or worse, have it stolen? With a cloud computing application like Salesforce.com there is no data stored on the laptop that someone could get into.
Recently, when facing space and bandwidth issues on a web server, rather than purchasing more space from the ISP or getting another web server to handle the over flow, we began using Amazon’s Simple Storage Service or S3.
Amazon’s cloud computing, or Amazon Web Services (AWS), includes the Simple Storage Service (S3), Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Relational Database Service(RDS), Elastic Map Reduce(EMR) and Cloud Front (CF). Each service is run through the web and has it’s own particular function. For our storage we chose the AWS S3 for it’s “unlimited” storage capabilities and web interface for about 15 cents per gig per month. There is no hardware or software costs on our part and virtually no setup time.
The S3 now stores our images & PDF files, as well as an archive of magazine assets & other items which need to be accessed by people remotely. There were a couple small modifications to some legacy web code to get images uploaded to the S3 vs. our old system, but the main CMS (WordPress) has a plugin which made things really easy. The production staff is using it through Firefox to archive assets from past issues in a way where people off site can come in and pick them up for reprints. They’re also using the system for proofs — they’ll create a PDF proof of a page and send a link to an editor or advertiser for review.
To get setup with S3, or any of the Amazon Web Services, you can use your Amazon account or if you don’t have one create one at time of signup. The main signup form is at http://aws.amazon.com. If you’ve bought anything from Amazon in the past you’re already halfway there… as it will ask for your Amazon username & password. Next AWS will give you two keys. These keys will be used to connect to your S3 account. The first key is your Access Key, the second key is your Secret Access Key. Copy both of these keys into a text file and keep that text file somewhere safe.
AWS offers an online management console for S3, however, there are much better 3rd party utilities. The best (FREE) one is a Firefox pluging called S3Fox. If you don’t use FireFox there are stand alone programs called Cloud Berry Explorer (for PC) and Jungle Disk(for Mac).
To download the S3Fox plugin go to http://www.s3fox.net/DownloadPage.aspx and follow the instructions on allowing it to be downloaded. Once downloaded, install and restart FireFox. Go under the tools and select S3 Organizer. The first time you do this you will be prompted to create a new Account. Account Name is anything you want it to be. If you are going to have more than one S3 account give it name that you’ll understand what it’s being used for. Here I’ve named our DWO, short for Design World Online. Next, enter your Access Key that AWS gave you after you signed up. Next, enter in your Secret Access Key and click close. That’s it.
The next thing you will see is the S3Fox dashboard. This is split into 4 different sections. The two large sections at the top are your local computer (on the left) and the remove S3 machine (on the right). The smaller box on the lower left is the “current task” box which shows you what’s going on at any given time. Most of the time this is blank. The box at the bottom right, which takes up most of the bottom of the dashboard, is the file queue and log box. Here you’ll see what files you have in your upload queue and their status.
In the upper right hand corner of the S3 box are 5 icons. The first icon is like a Windows Explorer icon to move up one directory. The next is an icon that looks like a piano with a starburst on it. This is for creating buckets (AWS’ term for folders). The next icon, a pencil on a piece of paper, is the Edit ACL button. ACL is Access Control List which changes the access settings on folders/buckets and files. The next icon is a red X on a piece of paper. This is the delete button. It will delete files & buckets. Finally, there is the refresh button which looks like two arrows in a circular pattern. This will refresh the view should your session time out.
Using the S3 is similar to using any windows system or “Norton Commander” type system. To copy or upload files to the S3, find where they are on your hard drive in the left box and drag and drop them over to the right hand box. You can also drag and drop from any open file folder on your machine into the S3.