“The cloud” is an essential buzzword in computing right now, but its meaning is instead, well, cloudy for most people. Nevertheless, the chances are high that you’ve already used the cloud, even if you may not have known it at the time. Media sharing services like Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube? They use the cloud.
At its heart, cloud computing involves using the power of the internet to outsource tasks you might traditionally perform on a personal computer – anything from handling simple storage to complex development and processing – to a vast and powerful remote network of interconnected machines.
This outsourcing is handy for the casual user who is fed up with having to free up space on their hard drive or purchase new storage for all the cat/baby/food photos they can’t stop taking. It’s even better for businesses that want to use the cloud for processing and storage – because users only pay for what they use.
Back in the day, companies purchased computing infrastructure based on what they figured they might need now and in the next couple of years. Fearing what would happen if they underestimated demand, they tended to over-buy only to have the equipment sit around idle. Not only that, business software is expensive. Not to mention the servers, networks, bandwidth, power, cooling, office space, and the experts needed to install, configure and run the whole caboodle.
Cloud computing allows businesses to run essential programs and applications through the Internet, saving them time, space, hassle, and lots and lots of money. Billing for cloud services works just like the way you pay for utilities like gas and electricity in your home; it’s pay-as-you-go. The cloud is also highly flexible. For heavy tasks, clients have instant access to scaled-up computing power on the fly. When they’re done with it, they simply release it back to the cloud.
What is the cloud?
The first thing you need to know is that the cloud exists in far-flung data centres, which you access via the internet. It is a collection of networked computer hardware that works together to provide many aspects of computing in online services. You can’t physically touch the hardware itself in the public cloud, but you control it remotely via web interfaces.
One of the central features of the cloud is virtualisation. Virtual machines are created with software that subdivides the computing power, memory, and storage of a given device into multiple smaller units, each running its operating system. This virtualisation allows computing resources to be shared and allocated efficiently across the cloud.
Cloud computing is a general term that is better divided into three categories: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – where big players like Amazon and Google rent out immense computing infrastructure to other companies; Platform as a Service (PaaS) – online spaces where developers create online applications for specific sets of users; and Software as a Service (SaaS) – where clients use software over the internet.
Even the average web surfer at home has interacted with at least some of these. Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail are all examples of SaaS cloud applications. One of the things that make it so powerful is that – in the case of the former two – thousands, even millions, of people can simultaneously interact with the same bit of information.
The other giant boon for individual users is that services like Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud allow them to store their photos, email, music, calendars, contacts, and other data in a central location, accessible from whatever device happens to be handy. These can be set up to automatically sync with the cloud, ending an era of fumbling with USB cables and cursing yourself for bringing the wrong data stick to a meeting. That appointment you just noted in your phone will appear seamlessly in your desktop calendar, leaving you free to kick back and enjoy the music you’re streaming from your collection on distant servers.
Cloud storage vs cloud computing
Cloud storage involves stashing data on hardware in a remote physical location, accessed from any device via the internet. Clients send files to a data server maintained by a cloud provider instead of (or as well as) storing it on their hard drives. Dropbox, which lets users store and share files, is a good example. Cloud storage systems generally encompass hundreds of data servers linked together by a master control server, but the most straightforward approach might involve just one.
Cloud computing also involves clients connecting to remote computing infrastructure via a network, but this time, infrastructure includes shared processing power, software, and other resources. This frees users from having to constantly update and maintain their software and systems while at the same time allowing them to harness the processing power of a vast network. Familiar everyday services powered by cloud computing include social networks like Facebook, webmail clients like Gmail, and online banking apps.
How Does Cloud Computing Work?
To understand the workings of a cloud system, it is easier to divide it into two sections: the front end and the back end. They are connected through a network, usually the Internet. The front end is the side of the computer user or client. The rear end is ‘the cloud’ section of the system.
The front end consists of the client’s computer or computer network. Also, the application essential to access the cloud system. Not all cloud computing systems need to have the same user interface. There are various computers, servers, and data storage systems that make up the cloud on the back end of the cloud technology system. A cloud computing system could potentially include any computer program, from data processing to video games. Generally, each application will have its dedicated server.
If the cloud service provider or cloud technology company has multiple clients, there’s likely high demand for storage space. It’s possible to ‘fool’ a physical server into thinking that it’s multiple servers, each running its independent operating system. This technique is known as server virtualisation, which reduces the need for physical machines. This method maximises the output of individual servers.
Cloud Computing – Characteristics and Benefits
For Deployment purposes, Cloud Computing can be divided into:
- Public cloud
- Private cloud
- Hybrid cloud
- Community cloud
A Public Cloud is computing in which a service provider makes resources available to the public via the internet, with no investment required to maintain the IT infrastructure. It is commonly shared among many customers, but with each customer’s data hidden from other customers (for example, email services).
A Private Cloud is a dedicated cloud environment accessible only within an organisation, offering additional security due to its private nature.
A Community Cloud allows applications and services to be used by groups of organisations with a standard or shared concern. The purpose behind a community cloud is to enable users to work on joint projects within an extended community.
A Hybrid Cloud incorporates both Public and Private Clouds features, and Enterprises can choose to use services from a single vendor or multiple vendors.
Cloud Services can be divided into the following:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is where a third-party service provider provides computing infrastructure – including physical and virtual machines – to companies in the cloud rather than traditional on-premises data centre. Enterprise can rent servers for computing and storage and run applications without worrying about maintenance (for example, Azure Virtual Machines).
Platform as a Service (PaaS) involves providing everything that a developer needs to build applications, from database management to develop tools to operating systems, all rented from the third-party cloud provider.
Software as a Service (SaaS) enables users to utilise software application services over the internet on a subscription basis (also known as on-demand software). CRM applications and billing and invoicing solutions are typical examples of SaaS. Some SaaS applications cannot be customised, such as the Microsoft Office Applications, but SaaS offers Application Programming Interface (API) opportunities, whereby developers can customise an application.
Uses and Examples of Cloud Computing
The potential uses of cloud computing are only beginning to be grasped. Visions are being built on as the vast possibilities of cloud computing are realised. On both the individual and corporate levels, cloud computing is likely to change the way we operate.
For businesses, the cloud has the potential to transform operations, as well as cut costs. Offices running computer networks would no longer have to deal with the software installation for each computer, as well as licenses. This alleviates a tremendous IT load. Uses of the cloud include data storage, offering remote access to any work-related data.
The role of cloud computing on a corporate level can be either for the in-house operations or as a deployment tool for software or services the company develops for the public. Through the PaaS, much of the administration, maintenance, and deployment of the software becomes the job of a third party, the PaaS.
One of the other most prominent uses of cloud computing is the mobility that it brings, both to the recreational user and the corporate and business user. Many of us are already familiar with some cloud computing services, like Google Docs or even email services. With these apps, we can access documents or mail that is not stored on our PCs but are available to use because they are stored in a cloud or remote location.
Businesses who wish to create a cloud computing platform for their operations can choose between either a private or a public cloud, depending on their need. A customised PaaS can be made for them by companies specialise in cloud computing, such as Apprenda.
In addition to all the uses of cloud computing, from an IT or administrational viewpoint of view, cloud computing is relatively easy to manage. Cloud computing reduces the load on servers and the IT team as well. It centralises and unifies computing standards. A new implementation can quickly take on cloud behaviour as soon as it is deployed on the cloud. Every user who accesses the product will have access to the same standard product.
Because of the many uses of cloud computing, both consumers and enterprises are taking advantage of it and enlisting the help of companies that specialise in Paas and SaaS.
Cloud computing offers scalable resources through various subscription models. This means that you will only need to pay for the computing resources you use. This helps in managing spikes in demands without the need to invest in computer hardware permanently.
Netflix, for instance, leverages this potential of cloud computing to its advantage. Due to its on-demand streaming service, it faces large surges in server load at peak times. The move to migrate from in-house data centres to the cloud allowed the company to significantly expand its customer base without investing in the setup and maintenance of costly infrastructure.
The expanded computing power and capacity of the cloud enable us to store information about user preferences. This can be used to provide customised solutions, messages, and products based on users’ behaviour and preferences.
Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant – all are cloud-based natural-language intelligent bots. These chatbots leverage the computing capabilities of the cloud to provide personalised context-relevant customer experiences. The next time you say, “Hey Siri!” remember that there is a cloud-based AI solution behind it.
The cloud allows users to enjoy network-based access to communication tools like emails and calendars. Most of the messaging and calling apps like Skype and WhatsApp are also based on cloud infrastructure. All your messages and information are stored on the service provider’s hardware rather than on your device. This allows you to access your data from anywhere via the internet.
Office tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs use cloud computing, allowing you to use your most productive tools over the internet. You can work on your documents, presentations, and spreadsheets – from anywhere, at any time. With your data stored in the cloud, you don’t need to bother about data loss if your device is stolen, lost or damaged. Cloud also helps in sharing documents and enables different individuals to work on the same form simultaneously.
Many business management applications like customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are also based on a cloud service provider. Software as a Service (SAAS) has become a popular method for deploying enterprise-level software.
Salesforce, Hubspot, Marketo, etc., are popular examples of this model. This method is cost-effective and efficient for both the service provider and customers. It ensures hassle-free management, maintenance, and security of your organisation’s critical business resources and allows you to access these applications conveniently via a web browser.
Backup and recovery
When you choose cloud for data storage, the responsibility of your information also lies with your service provider. This saves you from the capital outlay for building infrastructure and maintenance. Your cloud service provider is responsible for securing data and meeting legal and compliance requirements.
The cloud also provides more flexibility in the sense that you can enjoy ample storage and on-demand backups. Recovery is also performed faster in the cloud because the data is stored over a network of physical servers rather than at one on-site data centre. Dropbox, Google Drive, and Amazon S3 are famous examples of cloud backup solutions.
Whether you are developing an application for web or mobile or even games, cloud platforms prove to be a reliable solution. Using the cloud, you can easily create scalable cross-platform experiences for your users.
These platforms include many pre-coded tools and libraries — like directory services, search, and security. This can speed up and simplify the development process. Amazon Lumberyard is a popular mobile game development tool used in the cloud.
Test and development
The cloud can provide an environment to cut expenses and launch your apps in the market faster. Rather than setting up physical environments, developers can use the cloud to set up and dismantle test and development environments. This saves the technical team from securing budgets and spending critical project time and resources.
These dev-test environments can also be scaled up or down based on requirements. LoadStorm and BlazeMeter are popular testing tools.
Big data analytics
Cloud computing enables data scientists to tap into any organisational data to analyse it for patterns and insights, find correlations make predictions, forecast future crises, and help in data-backed decision making. Cloud services make massive mining amounts of data possible by providing higher processing power and sophisticated tools.
Many open-source big data tools are based on the cloud, for instance, Hadoop, Cassandra, HPCC, etc. Without the shadow, it won’t be tough to collect and analyse data in real-time, especially for small companies.
Social Media is the most popular and often overlooked application of cloud computing. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and many other social networking sites use cloud computing. Social networking sites are designed to find people you already know or would like to know.
In the course of finding people, we end up sharing a lot of personal information. Of course, if you’re sharing information on social media, you are sharing it with friends and the makers of the platform. This means that the platform will require a powerful hosting solution to manage and store data in real-time, using famous cloud critical.