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A great deal of business now takes place on the web, from e-commerce to collaboration, marketing, CRM, and dozens of other functions. As the importance of web applications continues to surge, companies are scrambling to keep up with the demands. When your business depends on it, a web application needs to meet user needs and expectations regardless of how many people want access.

But running these critical applications can be incredibly inefficient and expensive. Most web apps are characterized by long stretches of steady use interrupted by occasional spikes- for holiday sales, tax deadlines, stock openings and closings, and similar short-term events. Meeting these peak demands is a perennial headache. Web apps are corporate data center hogs, tying up scare resources and disrupting other operations. The common approach is to contract with a colocation or MSP facility, provisioning for peak periods and spending hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars annually in underutilized gear. Every year companies get locked into these costly relationships - it's like an addiction they come to hate but can't live without.

The cloud provides a way to kick the habit. Companies can quickly scale up their web apps for peak periods and scale them back down when traffic subsides. The cloud model provides the agility and efficiency that companies sorely need: rather than pay for equipment to sit idle, they pay only for the computing power they actually use, even if it's only for a few hours or days.

Many enterprises would love to host their web apps in the cloud, but aren't sure how to proceed. The first step is to understand how web applications are built - typically with a few key tiers that reside on separate servers:

  • A front-end tier that handles interaction with the user
  • An application tier that contains the business logic
  • A database tier that stores user information and transactional data

In addition to these core components, there's usually some security equipment or software in front of the web server that controls who can access the application and what they can do once they're connected. These elements remain consistent regardless of where the application is hosted-in a cloud, a data center, a colo facility, or some combination.

Now let's examine some of the ways that web apps can run in a cloud. There appear to be three major use cases emerging in the cloud market, reflecting the ways in which specific web apps are architected, and the comfort levels of the customer in exposing some or all of their app stacks outside the corporate firewall.


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