What is “cloud computing”?

These days, it seems like everything is happening “in the cloud”. But what exactly is this nebulous concept?

Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of computing services over the Internet via servers, storage, databases, networking, software, and more. It enables faster innovation, offers flexible resources, and provides economies of scale while allowing users to pay only for the services they use. This technology eliminates the need to buy and maintain physical data centres and servers, making it possible to access computing power, storage, and databases as cloud providers need. Cloud computing is available through various deployment models (public, private, hybrid) and service layers (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS), providing users with remote, on-demand access to computing resources and data storage over the Internet.

According to a Dell report companies that invest in big data, cloud, mobility, and security enjoy up to 53% faster revenue growth than their competitors. But more than that, they are using this technology to more efficiently run their organisations, better serve their customers, and dramatically increase their overall profit margins.


How cloud computing works?

As society advances further into the digital age of the 21st century, the demand for data usage has skyrocketed, posing a significant challenge for individuals and organisations to maintain their crucial information, programs, and systems on local computer servers.

With a cloud app, you just open a browser, log in, and start working.

That means a field sales representative using cloud-based CRM can get all the information they need from their mobile device. Contact notes can be updated in real time so they are always fresh and complete and available to others – no more waiting to get back to the office to type it in. And sales managers know exactly which deals will close and when, from their desktop machines in their offices, or their tablets or phones when they are out and about.

And this all happens without any hardware to buy and manage, or software to install and update. That's because the hardware and software required is all the responsibility of the cloud company that runs the app. Companies such as salesforce.com have years of experience managing their cloud infrastructure and making sure that it's secure and reliable so that you don't have to.

You can run all kinds of apps in the cloud:

  • Create and collaborate on documents and spreadsheets with Google Apps for Business;
  • Video conference with your colleagues on Skype;
  • Manage your Sales & Customer Service functions, alongside other key business processes on App Cloud.

You can even build your own social, mobile and real-time employee apps and run them in the cloud. The latest innovations in cloud computing are making business applications even more mobile and collaborative.


What's so great about the cloud?

Adoption of the cloud has been swift and global. Here are some of the most important reasons to adopt cloud computing.

Cloud Computing and Emerging Technologies

The evolving and diverse landscape of cloud computing can be demonstrated by its adaptability to emerging technologies and ongoing impact on various industries.

Edge Computing and Cloud Integration:

Cloud computing isn't limited to centralised data centres. It's increasingly being integrated with edge computing, which involves processing data closer to where it's generated, often at the network's edge. This integration facilitates real-time data analysis, reduced latency, and enhanced performance. It suits applications like IoT (Internet of Things), where immediate data processing is critical for real-time decision-making.

Containerisation and Orchestration:

Cloud computing relies heavily on containerisation technologies and container orchestration platforms. Containers package applications and their dependencies in a consistent environment, enabling easy deployment and scaling of applications across different cloud environments. This approach fosters portability and reproducibility in cloud-based deployments.

Serverless Computing:

Serverless computing, often called Function-as-a-Service (FaaS), allows developers to run code in response to events without managing server infrastructure. With serverless, you're billed only for the actual compute time used, providing a cost-effective and scalable solution for specific workloads as it automatically scales with demand.

Hybrid and Multi-Cloud Strategies:

Many organisations adopt hybrid and multi-cloud strategies, combining public and private clouds or multiple cloud providers. This approach allows businesses to balance performance, cost, and data residency requirements while reducing vendor lock-in.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:

Cloud computing platforms often offer integrated AI and ML services, making it easier for businesses to build and deploy machine learning models, perform data analytics, and extract insights from vast datasets.

Environmental Considerations:

Cloud providers increasingly focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility. They aim to reduce their carbon footprint by transitioning to renewable energy sources and implementing energy-efficient data centre designs.

Cloud-Native Development:

Cloud-native development practices involve building applications from the ground up to leverage cloud resources fully. These applications are designed for scalability, resilience, and flexibility, often using microservices architecture and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines.

Types of Cloud Services: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

These cloud computing service models offer diverse options, from fine-grained control over infrastructure (IaaS) to simplified application development (PaaS), ready-to-use software solutions (SaaS), and efficient, event-driven application development without infrastructure management (Serverless). Each model serves specific business needs, allowing organisations to select the most suitable option.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS offers on-demand infrastructure resources, including computing power, storage, networking, and virtualisation. The service provider owns and manages the underlying infrastructure, while customers are responsible for software components like operating systems, middleware, data, and applications.

Key Benefit: IaaS provides high flexibility and control over IT resources, similar to traditional setups, allowing customisation and scalability.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS supplies an environment for developing, testing, delivering, and managing software applications. It eliminates the need for organisations to manage underlying infrastructure (hardware and operating systems) and focuses on application deployment and management. PaaS includes middleware, development tools, and cloud databases.

Key Benefit: PaaS streamlines application development by removing concerns about resource procurement, capacity planning, and infrastructure maintenance, enabling developers to concentrate on application development.


Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS delivers complete software products managed and operated by the service provider. Users can access and use these applications over the internet, typically on a subscription basis. SaaS is often associated with end-user applications and relieves users from concerns about software maintenance or infrastructure management.

Key Benefit: SaaS offers convenience, as users can use the software without the need to manage maintenance, updates, or underlying infrastructure.

Serverless Computing

Serverless computing, or Function as a Service (FaaS), allows developers to create applications as event-triggered functions without managing or scaling infrastructure. The cloud provider handles infrastructure setup, capacity planning, and server management. Serverless architectures are highly scalable and activate resources only when specific functions or triggers occur.

Key Benefit: Serverless computing offers efficient, event-triggered application development without the burden of server management. It's particularly suitable for applications that require on-demand scalability.


Who uses the cloud?

Without the cloud, life would be very different. It's become so integral to our everyday lives that most people use it without even realising. In fact for many people life without the cloud would be unthinkable: without it there would be no Facebook, no Twitter, no Gmail, and no Spotify.

The cloud has transformed the business landscape too. Today millions of organisations around the world rely on cloud services for everything from document creation and backup to social CRM and accounts, and just about every application imaginable in between:

  • Companies with over 25,000 employees use an average of 545 cloud apps or services;
  • Over 1.2 billion people around the world use Facebook;
  • Over half of all Internet users rely on cloud-based email services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail to send and receive their messages.

The History of Cloud Computing

The Internet has its roots in the 1960s, but it wasn't until the early 1990s that it had any relevance for businesses. The World Wide Web was born in 1991, and in 1993 a web browser called Mosaic was released that allowed users to view web pages that included graphics as well as text. This heralded the first company web sites – and not surprisingly, most of these belonged to companies involved in computing and technology.

As Internet connections got faster and more reliable, a new type of company called an Application Service Provider or ASP started to appear. ASPs took existing business applications and ran them for their customers. The ASP would buy the computing hardware and keeping the application running, and the customer would pay a monthly fee to access it over the Internet.

But it wasn't until right at the end of the 1990s that cloud computing as we know it today appeared. That's when salesforce.com introduced its own multi-tenant application which was specifically designed:

  • to run "in the cloud";
  • to be accessed over the Internet from a web browser;
  • to be used by large numbers of customers simultaneously at low cost.

Since then the cloud has grown and grown: in 2013 worldwide spending on cloud services ran to an estimated $47 billion. And that's set to more than double to over $108 billion by 2017 as companies invest in cloud services as the foundation for new, competitive offerings.


Social CRM in the cloud

If you're a Facebook or Twitter user you've probably come to expect relevant information pushed to you in real time; business applications like Sales Cloud are heading in that direction as well.

Need help? Ask a question on Slack, and others in the company can jump in with the information you're after.