What is the cloud? Where is the cloud? Are we in the cloud now? These are all questions you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself. The term “cloud computing” is everywhere.
More and more, we are seeing technology moving to the cloud. It’s not just a fad—the shift from traditional software models to the Internet has steadily gained momentum over the last 10 years. Looking ahead, the next decade of cloud computing promises new ways to collaborate everywhere, through mobile devices.
So what is Cloud Computing? Cloud computing is a general term for the delivery of hosted services over the internet. Cloud computing enables companies to consume a compute resource, such as a virtual machine (VM), storage or an application, as a utility — just like electricity — rather than having to build and maintain computing infrastructures in house.
Companies offering these computing services are called cloud providers and typically charge for cloud computing services based on usage, similar to how you are billed for water or electricity at home.
Life before cloud computing
Traditional business applications have always been very complicated and expensive. The amount and variety of hardware and software required to run them are daunting. You need a whole team of experts to install, configure, test, run, secure, and update them.
When you multiply this effort across dozens or hundreds of apps, it’s easy to see why the biggest companies with the best IT departments aren’t getting the apps they need. Small and mid-sized businesses don’t stand a chance.
With cloud computing, you eliminate those headaches that come with storing your own data, because you’re not managing hardware and software — that becomes the responsibility of an experienced vendor like salesforce.com. The shared infrastructure means it works like a utility: you only pay for what you need, upgrades are automatic, and scaling up or down is easy.
Cloud-based apps can be up and running in days or weeks, and they cost less. With a cloud app, you just open a browser, log in, customize the app, and start using it.
Businesses are running all kinds of apps in the cloud, like customer relationship management (CRM), HR, accounting, and much more. Some of the world’s largest companies moved their applications to the cloud with salesforce.com after rigorously testing the security and reliability of our infrastructure.
As cloud computing grows in popularity, thousands of companies are simply rebranding their non-cloud products and services as “cloud computing.” Always dig deeper when evaluating cloud offerings and keep in mind that if you have to buy and manage hardware and software, what you’re looking at isn’t really cloud computing but a false cloud.
Brief history of cloud computing
Cloud computing traces its origins back to the 1960s, when the computer industry recognized the potential benefits of delivering computing as a service or a utility. However, early computing lacked
the connectivity and bandwidth needed to implement computing as a utility. It wasn't until the broad availability of internet bandwidth in the late 1990s that computing as a service became practical.
In the late 1990s, Salesforce offered one of the first commercially successful implementations of enterprise SaaS. This was followed closely by the arrival of AWS in 2002, offering a range of services,
including storage and computation — and now embracing databases, machine learning and other services. Today, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and other providers have joined AWS in providing cloud-based services to individuals, small businesses and global enterprises.
Top benefits of cloud computing
Cloud computing is a big shift from the traditional way businesses think about IT resources. Here are 6 common reasons organisations are turning to cloud computing services:
Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware and software and setting up and running on-site datacentres—the racks of servers, the round-the-clock electricity for power and cooling, the IT experts for managing the infrastructure. It adds up fast.
Most cloud computing services are provided self service and on demand, so even vast amounts of computing resources can be provisioned in minutes, typically with just a few mouse clicks, giving businesses a lot of flexibility and taking the pressure off capacity planning.
3. Global scale
The benefits of cloud computing services include the ability to scale elastically. In cloud speak, that means delivering the right amount of IT resources—for example, more or less computing power, storage, bandwidth—right when its needed and from the right geographic location.
On-site datacenters typically require a lot of “racking and stacking”—hardware set up, software patching and other time-consuming IT management chores. Cloud computing removes the need for many of these tasks, so IT teams can spend time on achieving more important business goals.
The biggest cloud computing services run on a worldwide network of secure datacenters, which are regularly upgraded to the latest generation of fast and efficient computing hardware. This offers several benefits over a single corporate datacenter, including reduced network latency for applications and greater economies of scale.
Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity easier and less expensive, because data can be mirrored at multiple redundant sites on the cloud provider’s network.
Types of cloud computing
1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
A third party hosts elements of infrastructure, such as hardware, software, servers, and storage, also providing backup, security, and maintenance.
2. Software as a Service (SaaS)
Using the cloud, software such as an internet browser or application is able to become a usable tool. With SaaS, cloud providers host and manage the software application and underlying infrastructure and handle any maintenance, like software upgrades and security patching. Users connect to the application over the Internet, usually with a web browser on their phone, tablet or PC.
3. Platform as a Service (PaaS)
The branch of cloud computing that allows users to develop, run, and manage applications, without having to get caught up in code, storage, infrastructure and so on. PaaS is designed to make it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps, without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network and databases needed for development.
Types of cloud deployments
Public clouds are owned and operated by a third-party cloud service provider, which deliver their computing resources like servers and storage over the Internet. Microsoft Azure is an example of a public cloud. With a public cloud, all hardware, software and other supporting infrastructure is owned and managed by the cloud provider. You access these services and manage your account using a web browser.
A private cloud refers to cloud computing resources used exclusively by a single business or organisation. A private cloud can be physically located on the company’s on-site datacenter. Some companies also pay third-party service providers to host their private cloud. A private cloud is one in which the services and infrastructure are maintained on a private network.
Hybrid clouds combine public and private clouds, bound together by technology that allows data and applications to be shared between them. By allowing data and applications to move between private and public clouds, hybrid cloud gives businesses greater flexibility and more deployment options.
Common Cloud Examples
The lines between local computing and cloud computing sometimes get very, very blurry. That’s because the cloud is part of almost everything on our computers these days. You can easily have a local piece of software (for instance, Microsoft Office 365) that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft OneDrive).
That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web-based apps, Office Online, that are Internet-only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote accessed via your Web browser without installing anything. That makes them a version of cloud computing (Web-based=cloud).
Some other major examples of cloud computing you’re probably using:
Google Drive: This is a pure cloud computing service, with all the storage found online so it can work with the cloud apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Drive is also available on more than just desktop computers; you can use it on tablets like the iPad or on smartphones, and there are separate apps for Docs and Sheets, as well. In fact, most of Google’s services could be considered cloud computing: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on.
Apple iCloud: Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage, backup, and synchronization of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device (Windows users have to install the iCloud control panel). Naturally, Apple won’t be outdone by rivals: it offers cloud-based versions of its word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote) for use by any iCloud subscriber. iCloud is also the place iPhone users go to utilize the Find My iPhone feature that’s all important when the handset goes missing.
Amazon Cloud Drive: Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon, and images—if you have Amazon Prime, you get unlimited image storage. Amazon Cloud Drive also holds anything you buy for the Kindle. It’s essentially storage for anything digital you’d buy from Amazon, baked into all its products and services.
Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files online, but they also sync those files with local storage. Synchronization is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally.
Likewise, it’s considered cloud computing if you have a community of people with separate devices that need the same data synced, be it for work collaboration projects or just to keep the family in sync. For more, check out The Best Cloud Storage and File-Syncing Services for 2016.
Right now, the primary example of a device that is completely cloud-centric is the Chromebook. These are laptops that have just enough local storage and power to run the Chrome OS, which essentially turns the Google Chrome Web browser into an operating system. With a Chromebook, most everything you do is online: apps, media, and storage are all in the cloud.
Emerging cloud technologies and services
Cloud providers are competitive, and they constantly expand their services to differentiate themselves. This has led public IaaS providers to offer far more than common compute and storage instances.
For example, server less, or event-driven computing is a cloud service that executes specific functions, such as image processing and database updates. Traditional cloud deployments require users to establish a compute instance and load code into that instance. Then, the user decides how long to run — and pay for — that instance.
With server less computing, developers simply create code, and the cloud provider loads and executes that code in response to real-world events, so users don’t have to worry about the server or instance aspect of the cloud deployment. Users only pay for the number of transactions that the function executes. AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and Azure Functions are examples of serverless computing services.
Public cloud computing also lends itself well to big data processing, which demands enormous compute resources for relatively short durations. Cloud providers have responded with big data services, including Google BigQuery for large-scale data warehousing and Microsoft Azure Data Lake Analytics for processing huge data sets.
Another crop of emerging cloud technologies and services relates to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These technologies build machine understanding, enable systems to mimic human understanding and respond to changes in data to benefit the business. Amazon Machine Learning, Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly, Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine and Google Cloud Speech API are examples of these services.