What is Cloud Computing?

| Updated
by John Caroline · 9 min read
What is Cloud Computing?
Photo: Depositphotos

Cloud computing, with all its advantages and disadvantages, has become an integral part of our today’s lives. Check out our complete guide on all the ins and out of the tech.

In a world where computing has become pervasive and everything is going remote, including work, the terms “cloud” is familiar to anyone operating a smartphone or a personal computer. One might ask, “where is this cloud my device saves data to?” or “what exactly is it?” These and more are questions asked by those curious to find out where their data gets stored since they don’t get stored on their device.

Cloud Computing Defined

Cloud computing brings about a transformation of information technology (IT) into a utility. It gives access to infrastructures via the Internet making computing resources usable without any form of installation while maintaining them on-premises.

Simply put, the cloud is a data center or stack of several servers stored away in some locations that save information from connected devices. Cloud computing therefore simply translates to the storage and access of stored data on some remote server via the Internet instead of utilizing local storage. It would also suffice to refer to the cloud as the Internet.

Accessing data and processing them from a device’s internal storage is local computing because the storage is physically accessible to the user. This has been the standard mode of operation in the computing industry for a long time and while some argue that this is still superior to cloud computing, the adoption rate and trend for cloud computing have seemed to prove otherwise. The cloud is not to be mistaken for a Network Attached Storage (NAS) – a resident server or storage which is accessed remotely because it doesn’t essentially count as cloud utilization.

For a processing operation to be considered “cloud computing”, the data need to be stored and accessed over the Internet or synchronized with other information on the internet. For regular Internet users, there is no need to know what goes on at the backend and how their information synchronizes with other things on the internet. However, for a developer or a big institution, all the backend processes are usually transparent and familiar.

Types of Cloud Computing

Just like every service provided, there are different cloud computing packages that suit the needs of the users. There are different prices for different types, and categorically speaking, not all cloud computing solutions are right for every storage challenge faced by any prospective user. The user will first have to determine the type of cloud architecture that the services will be deployed onto. Taking that into consideration, discussed below are three ways to deploy cloud services:

  • Public cloud. In this type of cloud computing, a cloud service provider makes free access to computing resources from SaaS applications to individual virtual machines called VMs to bare metal computing according to access granted and subscription. The public cloud provider owns, manages, and assumes responsibilities for the data centers, hardware, and infrastructure on which its customers’ workloads run, hence rendering it a multi-tenant environment. Examples of leading public clouds are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle Cloud. They provide all the software, firmware, and hardware resources used to manage the cloud services and these are accessed via the Internet.
  • Private cloud. In this type of cloud environment, all cloud infrastructures are granted access to by customers only. This cloud is a combination of cloud computing benefits including elasticity, scalability, and ease of service delivery. It can be hosted on an independent cloud provider infrastructure hosted in an off-site data center. There is a preference for the private cloud over the public cloud by companies because of the easiness of meeting compliance requirements. And others make this preference because of private cloud confidentiality in data and documents.
  • Hybrid cloud. This cloud is a just combination of public and private cloud environments. It connects an organization’s private cloud services and public clouds into a single, flexible infrastructure for running the organization’s applications and workloads. The hybrid cloud runs with the goal of establishing a mix of public and private cloud resources.
  • Multi-cloud. This is the use of two or more clouds from two or more different cloud providers.

Cloud Computing Services

Cloud computing services fall into three broad categories that are often referred to as cloud computing stacks because they build on top of one another.

  • IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service). IaaS provides easy access to fundamental computing resources, physical and virtual servers, networking, and storage over the internet on a pay-as-you-go basis. This service enables end-users to scale and shrink resources on a needed basis, reducing the need for high, up-front capital expenditures or unnecessary on-premises infrastructures.
  • PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service). This provides software developers with on-demand platform hardware, complete software stack, infrastructure, and even development tools. The cloud provider hosts the storage, servers, networks, operating system software, middleware, and databases at their data center.
  • SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). This service is also known as cloud-based software or cloud applications. It is application software that is hosted in the cloud which grants access and usage through a web browser, a  desktop client integrating with the desktop or mobile operating system.

Cloud Computing Security

A major concern for businesses is the issue of security hence it is considered in cloud adoption (public cloud adoption). Public Cloud as a multi-tenant environment shares its reserve hardware infrastructures with numerous customers. There is a demand for significant isolation in this environment between logical compute resources. Access to public cloud storage and compute resources is secured via account login details.

Uses of Cloud Computing

We make use of cloud computing even when we don’t realize it. Online services usage such as sending email, document editing, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, or storing pictures and other files, is possible because of cloud computing.

The following are a few possibilities with cloud services from a cloud provider:

  • Creation of cloud-native applications, quick building, deploying, and scaling applications (web, mobile, and API).
  • Testing and building applications.
  • Storage, backup, and recovery of data.
  • Data analysis.
  • Audio and video streaming.
  • Embed intelligence.
  • Software delivery on demand.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has experienced mass adoption by individuals, corporations, and governments because of the number of benefits it affords every business to expand and grow. The agility afforded by the cloud gives anyone access to a broad range of technologies which enables them to innovate faster and develop any form of product or service as long as it is within their imagination. From data analytics to machine learning to the Internet of Things (IoT), the cloud allows for the development and deployment of any form of resource.

For individuals, it allows them to use any software on different platforms. This way, users can enjoy cross-platform compatibility across several devices. For corporations and governments, the use of cloud computing enables organizations to scale their services at any time they want without having to purchase any new infrastructure or hardware.

Beyond accessing files on multiple devices, individual users can access their emails on any device and store files remotely on services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Cloud computing also makes it possible for users to back up their personal data such as calendar activities, music, photos, and files to the cloud for easy recovery in the event of a drive failure.

For corporations and government organizations, cloud computing offers them an opportunity to save costs by a large margin. Before the invention and adoption of cloud computing, organizations were forced to buy, set up, and manage expensive technological infrastructure. Asides from the cost of the physical infrastructure, the expenses incurred on training the personnel that would be maintaining these structures are usually on the high side. With the evolution of storage media to cloud computing, organizations can now channel their resources into obtaining fast internet connections to enable their staff to upload and download things from the server seamlessly.

This structure allows people to save storage space on their devices and also upgrade their software packages via the web rather than using flash drives, floppy disks, or tangible media. For example, Adobe users can access Adobe applications through a subscription to its Creative Suite. This way, users can upgrade and fix issues with Adobe software that they own.

Disadvantages

Every form of technology, as beneficial as it can be, comes with its cons, and cloud computing is no exception. Despite all the efficiency, innovation, and speed that comes with this disruptive technology, naturally, it comes with its risks.

The first and ever recurrent challenge with every form of technology is security and this has been a big issue with cloud storage, especially with regard to personal or sensitive information such as health data and bank details. Regulatory bodies are constantly keeping cloud services providers on their toes, advising them to beef up their security measures. Using updated encryption measures, these providers have been able to secure a lot of data but in the event that the encryption key gets stolen or hacked, the data stored by these providers stand a chance of being compromised.

As cloud infrastructures consist of physical hardware, they are prone to wear, natural disasters, power issues, and even program error. A minute of downtime on these cloud resources could cost not only several organizations but the whole economy of a geographical location where these dependent organizations are situated because of the interconnection between products and services.

Just like every other technology, there is a learning curve for the stakeholders, developers, employees, and users of this service. A single error by anyone directly in touch with the working components of the system could potentially lead to failure or loss of data across a portion or the entirety of the system.

Bottom Line

Cloud computing has greatly helped IT professionals and its accessibility makes provision for easy computing resources assessment.

Another part of emerging cloud technologies and services makes a relation to Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. These technologies provide a range of cloud-based, ready-to-use AI and machine learning services for client needs.

Cloud computing will continually gain ground in IT and the emergence of more cloud base technologies is perceived.

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FAQ

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing technology gives users access to storage, files, software, and servers through their internet-connected devices (computers, smartphones, tablets, and wearables). Cloud computing provides, stores, and processes data in a location that’s separate from end-users.

What are the types of cloud computing?

The four main types of cloud computing are public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud.

What are cloud computing services?

Cloud computing services include Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).

What are the key benefits of cloud computing?

The importance of cloud computing is changing the landscape of business. The key benefits of cloud computing include saving time, on-demand access to data, minimal up-front investment, faster recovery, simplified scalability, internal communication improvement, and data security.

Is cloud computing secure?

Cloud computing is focused on security, hence it is secured.

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