The cloud is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere even though we rarely notice it. You interact with the cloud starting first thing in the morning as you check your phone for new emails before you even get out of bed. The cloud is there again when you use your phone’s maps app to check traffic conditions on the way to work.
Once at work, you use the cloud whether you write code using Github as a code repository, share a document with a colleague using Box, enter customer information into Salesforce, or onboard a new employee using Workday. When we go home, we may open up vacation photos a friend sent to us on Dropbox without giving it a second thought that we are consuming a cloud service built on top of another cloud service (Dropbox is built on Amazon AWS).
All of these are cloud services, yet we experience them in completely different ways, which raises several questions: What is a cloud service? Where is the cloud? What is the difference between the cloud and the Internet?
The term “cloud” is closely related to the Internet. For a long time, in network diagrams the complexity of the Internet was reduced down to a simple cloud icon. That’s because the focus was on the servers, devices, and switches IT professionals were responsible for and the Internet was beyond the horizon of what they needed to worry about from an architecture standpoint. Since software delivered over the Internet similarly doesn’t require the customer to worry about how it’s architected, people began to refer to this software as being “in the cloud.”
The term cloud services is a broad category that encompasses the myriad IT resources provided over the internet. The expression may also be used to describe professional services that support the selection, deployment and ongoing management of various cloud-based resources.
1.1. What is cloud-based technology?
The first sense of cloud services covers a wide range of resources that a service provider delivers to customers via the internet, which, in this context, has broadly become known as the cloud. Characteristics of cloud services include self-provisioning and elasticity; that is, customers can provision services on an on-demand basis and shut them down when no longer necessary. In addition, customers typically subscribe to cloud services, under a monthly billing arrangement, for example, rather than pay for software licenses and supporting server and network infrastructure upfront. In many transactions, this approach makes a cloud-based technology an operational expense, rather than a capital expense. From a management standpoint, cloud-based technology lets organizations access software, storage, compute and other IT infrastructure elements without the burden of maintaining and upgrading them.
1.2. Cloud services as professional services
The second sense of cloud services involves professional services that enable customers to deploy the various types of cloud services. Consulting firms, systems integrators and other channel partners may offer such services to help their clients adopt cloud-based technology.
1.3. Cloud services are a subset of the Internet
Larry Ellison, as one of the longest running tech CEOs in Silicon Valley history, summarized his frustration with what he perceived to be an overuse of the term “cloud” back in 2008 when he stated, “maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”
It’s clear what isn’t the cloud. Software that is stored in and run from someone’s local hard-drive is not the cloud because one of the requirements of the cloud computing is that the software, the underlying code, and the supporting infrastructure must be delivered via the internet and must run over the internet.
But why is Facebook.com considered a cloud service but Amazon.com isn’t considered a cloud service? The answer is related to how the two services are used. An e-commerce site such as Amazon certainly falls under the “software or service delivered over the internet” definition. However, another requirement of the cloud is that data must be uploaded to it. People don’t upload data to Amazon’s e-commerce site, but we upload a lot of data to Facebook in the form of pictures, comments, etc.
This is why the cloud can’t be conflated with the Internet. Instead, cloud computing is a model for sharing resources and enabling on-demand access to things like data storage, software, and processing.
2. What is cloud computing?
Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and more—over the Internet (“the cloud”). Companies offering these computing services are called cloud providers and typically charge for cloud computing services based on usage, similar to how you’re billed for water or electricity at home.
2.1. Uses of cloud computing
You’re probably using cloud computing right now, even if you don’t realize it. If you use an online service to send email, edit documents, watch movies or TV, listen to music, play games, or store pictures and other files, it’s likely that cloud computing is making it all possible behind the scenes. The first cloud computing services are barely a decade old, but already a variety of organizations—from tiny startups to global corporations, government agencies to non-profits—are embracing the technology for all sorts of reasons. Here are a few of the things you can do with the cloud:
• Create new apps and services
• Store, back up, and recover data
• Host websites and blogs
• Stream audio and video
• Deliver software on demand
• Analyze data for patterns and make predictions
2.2. Top benefits of cloud computing
Cloud computing is a big shift from the traditional way businesses think about IT resources. What is it about cloud computing? Why is cloud computing so popular? Here are 6 common reasons organizations are turning to cloud computing services:
Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware and software and setting up and running on-site datacenters—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.
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.
2.3. How cloud computing works
Cloud computing services all work a little differently, depending on the provider.
But many provide a friendly, browser-based dashboard that makes it easier for IT professionals and developers to order resources and manage their accounts. Some cloud computing services are also designed to work with REST APIs and a command-line interface (CLI), giving developers multiple options.
Adapted from: Skyhighnetworks, Azure, Searchitchannel