What is cloud computing?


Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services such as software, databases, servers and networking, over the internet. This means end users are able to access software and applications from wherever they are.

For users, “the cloud” means an always-on connection to web-based applications, data storage, processing and other computing resources. Most people use cloud computing to store and access personal or business data from a remote or private space on the internet.

How does the cloud get its name?

The cloud gets it name from the practice of drawing the internet as cloud-like in early 90’s patent diagrams of the network. So when people talk about things like ‘cloud storage’ and ‘cloud-based CRM’, they mean system resources and services that can do these things over the internet.

How does cloud computing work?

Cloud computing is based on the premise that the main computing takes place on a machine, often remote, that is not the one currently being used. Data collected during this process is stored and processed by remote servers (also called cloud servers), which means the device accessing the cloud doesn't need to work as hard.

These servers free up the memory and computing power of individual computers by hosting software, platforms, and data on their servers instead. Users can securely access cloud services using credentials received from the cloud computing provider.
Because cloud computing entails that the workload of a user’s computer is hosted on a different machine, the cloud can be accessible anywhere and is available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Different companies have their own cloud infrastructure to hold user data—e.g Google has its own servers, as does Salesforce. However, a cloud could also be a small number of computers. In this vein, there are both public and private clouds, and they can be self-hosted or hosted by a third-party. Private clouds require users to have the correct platforms or logins, such as a web browser or account, to access these servers and the data held within them.

Who uses the cloud?

Today, anyone who is online uses the cloud in their everyday lives, whether they realise it or not. Editing documents on a shared drive, sending emails, streaming films, storing files, sharing photos on Instagram — all these activities are made possible by cloud-based computing.

For businesses, the cloud has been transformative. Whether using the public cloud (hosted by third-party providers) or a private cloud (hosted on-premise but still providing mobile access), or a hybrid of the two, millions of organisations large and small now rely on the cloud for almost all their computing needs.

In the UK alone, the share of companies using cloud-based services has grown from 48% in 2010 to 88% in 2017. Some 67% of current users say they expect to increase their adoption of cloud services.

The benefits of cloud computing

Adoption of the cloud has been swift and global. The top three reasons for businesses to adopt cloud services initially are the flexibility of delivery, operational cost savings and scalability. Some 70% of organisations say they are either already gaining — or anticipate gaining — a competitive advantage from using cloud services.
Some of the most important benefits of cloud computing include:

  1. Rapid implementation
  2. Little or no up-front costs
  3. Instant scalability
  4. Maintenance-free
  5. Access anywhere
  6. Better security

Rapid implementation

A business can sign up and start using an application in the cloud instantly.

Even the most wide-ranging enterprise applications are usually up and running in a matter of days or weeks, rather than months or years.

No upfront costs

Businesses can do away with arbitrary up-front costs and start using applications straight away.

Cloud software means it’s possible to dramatically reduce or even eliminate capital expenditure costs and instead simply pay an all-in monthly fee for the service.

Instant scalability

With cloud-based applications, the number of users can be increased or decreased as needs change over time.

That means businesses pay only for what is needed and never have to worry about running out of capacity.



Patching, upgrading and testing applications can take up days of IT staff time every month, but with cloud applications none of this is necessary.

That's because it's all handled in the cloud, leaving your staff with more time to work on new projects and innovations.

Access anywhere

Cloud applications are designed to be accessed securely from anywhere via any connected device.

Better security

Large companies lose an average of 265 laptops a year. If they contain confidential data, that’s a serious security risk.

With cloud applications, data is stored securely in the cloud so a stray laptop becomes an inconvenience rather than a potential disaster.


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Why move to the cloud?

More and more businesses are moving their IT activity to the cloud to take advantage of the many benefits it offers. Essentially, the cloud is a game-changer for four key reasons:

  • Ease: The cloud requires little effort by a business to maintain or manage it.
  • Efficiency: Traditional on-premise computing generated step requirements in investment as capacity could not easily be varied; whereas cloud computing provides greater efficiency due to the sharing of resources across customers.
  • Access: It’s straightforward to access cloud-based applications and services from anywhere – all that is needed is a device with an internet connection.
  • Capacity: The cloud is effectively infinite in size, so organisations never need to worry about it running out of capacity.

These advantages are especially important in a world where office-based working is increasingly giving way to working remotely, and where the use of mobile devices has overtaken desktop computing.

Over 50% of workers report that they work outside their main office for at least half of their working week, according to a 2017 survey of 20,000 senior managers and business owners. This shift to “running your business from your phone” is also reflected in hardware sales, with desktop PCs projected to fall to 87 million units by 2021, as against 161.1 million laptop units, 145.8 million tablet units — and 1701.1 million smartphone units.

How safe is the cloud?

Cloud security, particularly for businesses, has become a much more reliable option than on-site data.

The cloud effectively eliminates a number of security concerns simply by virtue of being located off-site. Disasters, break-ins, and disgruntled employees have no access whatsoever to the physical servers that make up the cloud, and most cloud providers ensure that access to data is closely monitored, meaning that no one should be able to dump a bunch of company secrets onto a flash drive and walk out the door.

That said, special attention should apply to the security standards offered by the cloud provider, including measures to secure transmission and storage of data, as well as the physical security of the cloud provider data centre to control the access rights of employees.

For example, Salesforce is aware that the confidentiality, integrity and availability of our customers' data is critical to their business processes and our own success.

With our tiered approach to cloud security we protect the most important data, in which we monitor our application, systems and processes continuously and optimise them as needed so that they meet the increasing demands and safety requirements.


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Types of cloud computing services

There are three main kinds of cloud service: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS).

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides a business with its basic computing infrastructure over the internet, including networks, servers and storage, typically on a pay-as-you-go basis.
From the user’s point of view, using cloud-based services is simply a matter of securely logging in to the application over the internet, which can be done via any connected device, such as a smartphone, tablet or PC.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a way of delivering software applications over the internet, typically on subscription and on demand. The cloud provider handles the hosting and all the IT infrastructure, as well as maintenance and security.
SaaS services make use of multi-tenancy cloud architecture, meaning all users and applications share a common infrastructure that is centrally maintained.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) extends the IaaS model with a set of cloud-based services that enable business users and developers to build and deploy customer-friendly applications rapidly and intuitively.

This happens without any hardware to buy and manage or software to install and update because the hardware and software required is maintained by the cloud company that runs the app.

Uses of cloud computing for business

Common business uses of cloud computing include recruitment, expense management, payroll software, project management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and virtual meeting software, to name a few. Practically every application imaginable can be provided via the cloud.

The latest innovations in cloud computing are making business applications even more mobile and collaborative. With cloud-based CRM, for example, a field sales representative 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.


That’s a lot of info!

Here’s what you should take away from this article:

  • What is cloud computing? Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services such as web-based applications and software via the Internet.
  • Why is it called ‘the cloud’? In its infancy, the Internet was typically represented diagrammatically as a cloud. This practice introduced now-common terms like ‘cloud storage’.
  • How does cloud computing work? Cloud computing works by carrying out the main computing activity remotely, thereby improving security and making systems accessible from anywhere.
  • Who uses cloud services? Most people use cloud services in their everyday lives, to send emails, store files, share photos, stream films and more.
  • What are the benefits of cloud computing for businesses? The benefits of cloud computing for businesses include access from anywhere, instant scalability, minimal up-front costs and enhanced data security.
  • Why move to the cloud? The advantages of moving to the cloud include ease of use, increased efficiency, flexible access and virtually infinite capacity.
  • How secure is the cloud? Cloud computing is generally more secure  than on-site data storage, as cloud providers can control access to data more strictly.
  • What are the different types of cloud computing? The cloud-computing types are Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).
  • What are some common business uses for cloud computing? Common business uses include recruitment, project management, payroll, expense management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and virtual meeting software.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is the provision of computing resources via the Internet so that customers can access products and services hosted on remote servers, rather than on their own internal systems. Common uses of cloud computing include remote data storage and processing, and the supply of web-based software and applications.

How does cloud computing work?

Cloud computing works by hosting software, platforms and data on remote servers (also known as cloud servers) accessed via the Internet, thereby freeing up memory and computing power on individual devices. Clouds can be either private or public, self-hosted or hosted by a third party, and are protected by robust security protocols.

What do you need to use cloud computing?

To use cloud computing, you need first to equip your workforce with individual devices with Internet connectivity, whether desktop or mobile. With no up-front costs and rapid implementation, any business can sign up and start using an application in the cloud instantly, either hosted on-premise or supplied by a third party.

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