What Is Cloud Computing?
“It’s a storage system out there in the atmosphere. Right? I don’t know what ‘cloud’ is. That’s for computer people.”
No longer just a weather phenomenon, the cloud is a concept born in the IT industry. Though it’s become more popular with the public, cloud computing is still not well understood outside technology circles; however, its increased use across all industries means it needs to be.
Cloud computing is online storage and processing power people and companies can use instead of using traditional hardware like hard drives and servers. Advancements in technology now allow files and entire programs to be stored securely and reliably online. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, says, “The cloud services companies of all sizes… the cloud is for everyone. The cloud is a democracy.”
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How Does Cloud Computing Work?
Clouds use a network layer to connect users’ endpoint devices—including computers, tablets, and smartphones, along with an increasing array of non-traditional devices like as “wearables”—to resources centralized in a data center. Before the cloud, businesses providing services could only reliably run software if they could also foot the bill to maintain the infrastructure of the necessary servers and additional hardware. Furthermore, traditional software often required a full in-house or outsourced staff of IT professionals to deal with the inevitable parade of errors, service challenges, and upgrades. Cloud computing gets rid of those outdated problems and requirements.
Cloud Computing: Why it’s Time to Make the Switch
Cloud computing, and its potential to change the way we use computers, has actually been on the minds of tech-savvy leaders for years. Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say about it in 1997:
“I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster… carrying around these non-connected computers is byzantine by comparison.”
At that time, the idea of using remote servers was more like a wild dream—most people accessed the Internet through slow modems that connected over phone lines. However, with fibre-optic networks and high speed Internet more freely available at reasonable prices, the idea is now reality.
Today, the cloud computing market generates around $100 billion annually. And an estimated 42 per cent of IT decision makers plan to increase spending on cloud computing in 2015, with the greatest growth in enterprises with more than 1,000 employees (52 per cent). Here’s why you should consider making the switch:
To Ditch the Hardware
Why the scramble to embrace this technology? For one, cloud computing takes the hassles of hardware off a business’s plate.
When a business provides its own software for the company, there are servers to keep in mind. These servers require a dedicated power supply and replacement parts; they also have to be configured and monitored for performance issues and require on-call experts to troubleshoot.
With cloud-based software, those fluctuating and potentially expensive infrastructure costs and concerns essentially vanish. Instead, those costs are built in up front. The cloud-computing provider is responsible for the hardware and for the associated headaches.
To Level the Playing Field
Small businesses, start-ups with limited capital, and well-established enterprises are equals on the cloud. It doesn’t matter if you have ten or thousands of customers who use your platform: Cloud computing democratizes the enterprise software application. With the elasticity to grow or downsize a customer’s share of pooled capacity quickly—and sometimes automatically—end users won’t experience the ill effects of hardware headaches. And companies large and small can focus on perfecting their services and growing their business.
Core Characteristics of Cloud Computing
On-demand: There’s no need to pay for an IT professional to provision the server or network storage. You can get the computing power you need when you need it.
Multi-Platform: As long as you have an internet connection, you can access the service through a laptop, tablet, smart phone, or a desktop computer.
Pooled Resources: This follows the multi-tenant model, meaning multiple users can simultaneously use the same software without paying extra fees. With most traditional software, each user has his own instance of the program with a confirmation code.
Rapid elasticity. Cloud computing usage scales based on demand and actual usage in the user’s favour, either up or down. It automatically fits users’ needs without affecting the user’s experience.
Measured service. Because of the elasticity of the cloud, resource usage is monitored, controlled, and reported upfront. You pay for what you use, with no surprises, similar to how most people pay their utility bill.
From Private to Public: Which Cloud is Right for You?
In the computing world, a cloud represents a sprawling network of cables, servers, and the software services they provide. Just as clouds can form in a variety of ways, cloud computing can take shape in several ways. Let’s look closer at some of the different cloud-based options.
This is a standardized service that can handle hundreds of thousands of companies using it simultaneously, while keeping them separated and their information private. The cloud provider handles the maintenance, security, flexibility, and scalability for all of the users of that cloud. These clouds are suitable for a business, academic, or government organization.
Community clouds develop when a specific industry has certain needs and requirements in its security provisions or types of applications, and several different companies or organizations pool together their cloud-based resources to solve a shared problem. A good example is the health care industry, where insurance providers face similar requirements as hospitals to secure and exchange privileged patient information and records. A community cloud could more easily solve the shared specific needs of both parties for handling patient records, more so than a single, general cloud solution.
Private clouds consist of a single organization with its own cloud of servers and software to be used without a public access point. Businesses that use private clouds generally manage them on their own; very large organizations with many locations and business units sometimes receive third-party assistance to manage a private cloud. The challenges of capacity planning, equipment procurement, software updates, and security administration are handled on the premises by the organization’s IT team.
This type of cloud is more niche and specialized. According to “A View of Cloud Computing,” this cloud infrastructure is composed of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (for instance, cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds).
These clouds can be configured and modeled in several different ways by cloud providers to meet specific needs for each business.
The Software as a Service (SaaS) model of cloud computing makes the software application available to users through a browser or program interface. With this model, all the underlying network, operating systems, and capabilities function behind the scenes. This is a very popular application of cloud computing: An estimated 59 per cent of the total cloud workloads will be SaaS by 2018, up from 41 per cent in 2013.
The Platform as a Service (PaaS) model can leverage the infrastructure benefits of cloud computing while maintaining the freedom to develop custom software applications. Users can access PaaS in the same way as a SaaS application. The provider maintains the operating system, network, servers, and security.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) gives organizations the ability to leverage raw server capabilities while the rest of the management for the platform and software falls on the business. This can allow for extra capability without the worry of hardware requirements.
The Transformative Power of Cloud Technology
All this capability the cloud offers opens many industries up to the possibilities of creative software applications and solutions. By removing the barrier of technical expertise required to configure and maintain the infrastructure, businesses can afford a secure, reliable, customizable alternative. Since most SaaS and PaaS providers are also consumers of other cloud services, each new business opens up more potential market-changing opportunities for businesses and their employees.