What is Cloud Computing?

On Mar 13, 2020 at 8:53 am UTC by Adedamola Bada · 8 min read
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Photo: Depositphotos
Photo: Depositphotos

Cloud computing, with all its advantages and disadvantages, has become an integral part of our today’s lives. Still, a lot of questions regarding this widely-used technology arise. Read our complete guide on all the ins and outs of the tech.

In a world where computing has become pervasive and everything is going remote, including work, the term “cloud”, “upload to cloud”, etc. cannot be unfamiliar with millennials or at least 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?” “Is it really up in the sky or somewhere invincible nobody can see?” All 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

Simply put, the cloud is some 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, they need not know what goes on at the backend and how their information synchronizes with other things on the internet but for a developer or a big institution, all the backend processes are usually known to them.

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 government, 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, setup and manage expensive technological infrastructure. Asides 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 on 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 regards 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 where 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.

Types of Cloud Computing Services

Just like every service provided, there are different packages offered by the provider in order to suit the needs of their consumers. 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:

Private Cloud: Used solely by a single organization, this cloud service is usually located at the organization’s datacenter, which is usually on-site. While some purchase their computing resources themselves, others pay to have their cloud-hosted privately on a provider’s resources. The infrastructure and services of this mode are usually controlled on a network – which is also private.

Public Cloud: These are usually operated and managed by third-party providers that deliver their services over the internet. Typical examples of these are Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. They provide all the software, firmware and hardware resources used to manage the cloud services and these are accessed via the internet.

Hybrid Cloud: This combines both private and public clouds, merging the technologies which allow the sharing of data and applications among both of them. Given the free flow of applications and data between both cloud setups, hybrid cloud affords the owners with more deployment options, flexibility to scale and optimize infrastructure and security setups.

The three types of cloud services are then explained below, briefly:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This is the most common kind of cloud service where resources such as network, storage, virtual machines, and operating systems are rented from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS is used mostly by developers, delivering the network, storage, database and server options for deployment, delivering and testing of their developed software applications.

Serverless computing: This focuses on developing application functionality without spending so much time and resources trying to set up the server architecture and management processes. They are usually scalable, overlap with PaaS and only operate when a function is triggered.

Real-life Examples

Given the setup and benefits associated with cloud computing, it is easy for anyone to erroneously think local computing is the same as cloud computing. This is simply because cloud services are virtually part of the application software used on PCs daily. Microsoft Office 365 for example, uses Microsoft Onedrive as its cloud computing storage. Another version of cloud computing is the Office Online package, the online version of Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote which can only be accessed when connected to the internet.

Businesses can and should adopt cloud services if they don’t already. While some use the cloud for mainly storage operations others use them for information processing and application maintenance. For large institutions that employ the hybrid cloud model, they store certain data and applications on private servers while they run processes and store other less sensitive information on the public cloud.

Examples of big players in the cloud providing niche are:

Virtually all of these are public clouds and employ the pay-as-you-go model, allowing users to sign up and even enjoy free trial for a couple of days or some credits before they are required to upgrade to a paid plan to continue using their services. The benefits of these as mentioned earlier are ease of use, high availability, security and lower costs incurred when compared to local computing.

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