Cloud Computing: What It Is And How It Works
Unless you have spent the last five years exploring some remote outpost where there is no internet connection, you will have heard of the ‘cloud’. It’s another example of how a ubiquitous object in everyday life has come to take on a totally different meaning. Just as we had to learn that blackberries and apples are not just fruits that are popular in pies, and that spam is not just a reconstituted meat of dubious origin, the cloud has come to represent something much more technologically specific that the white fluffy cotton ball-resembling ghosts that drift slowly through the sky.
But what exactly is the ‘cloud’, and how does cloud-based computing actually work? It’s another of those concepts that has slipped almost unnoticed into normal parlance without most people really knowing what it is or how it actually operates. It must be beneficial, otherwise, so many people wouldn’t be using it, and you are vaguely aware that it has revolutionized aspects of the way organizations and businesses store data, but beyond that, it’s all a bit of a mystery.
What is cloud computing?
Understanding what cloud computing does is a little easier the understanding exactly how it works. Its purpose is simple to define: it delivers a host of services including data-sharing, computing capacity, and storage, over the internet. Servers that used to be physical (you may remember huge rooms in your place of work that were out of bounds to non-tech personnel) are now based in the ether (more on that later) so a business does not requie all of these expensive, physical resocurces that were once a core component of any businesss that used computer technology.
Cloud computing can be visualized by picturing it as a kind of virtual pool where resources are shared, accessed and stored. It consists of billions of databases and intelligence, as well as stored files and analytics. To use the cloud, then, businesses simply need to access it, and this is mostly done on a pay-as-you-go basis, which makes it so much more conveneient and affordable for startups and SMEs. But they are far from the only types of organizations that use the cloud, because using it fundamentally means that a business can avoid the ourchasing and mainatnenace of its own hardware.
That’s because the cloud, in essence, allows this hardware to be shared. So the ‘cloud’ is somewhere after all – this information is not just floating around in the ether. There is a physical server, somewhere, where all of this information lies, but whereas every business used to have their own server and storage center, now these expensive hardware items are shared.
Infographic created by HotWire Networks, a web hosting company
What are the benefits of cloud computing?
The inherent benefits are easy to ascertain. First and foremost, as already mentioned, it negates the need to have this physical hardware yourself, which is a significant cost (ongoing cost too) which is swerved. And because of the pay-as-you-go nature of the cloud, you only need use what you need, so you can scale up as necessary. Whereas scaling up would have been a challenge in terms of your existing physical hardware and storage, now it’s not a relevant issue, as the cloud offers almost infinite space for you to take advantage of if you wish. That’s why it appeals to far more people than just those who are operating startup operations.
It’s all these reasons and more that have made the idea of cloud computing so exciting, and why people talk about it in terms of it being revolutionary. The cloud has enabled small businesses to afford services and subsequently scale up on unparalleled levels. In short, resources and infrastructure can be shared over the internet to the advantage of all involved, from the businesses themselves, to the users and customers who rely on them.
So how does cloud computing actually work?
Although not deeply technical, understanding how the cloud works is a little more complex than understanding simply what it is. But the concepts can be grasped without too much difficulty.
To begin with, it’s important to understand that the things we use on the internet, namely applications that we access on our desktop and smart phones, and the websites that we visit, operate with what is called a front end and back end. The front end is the part that, as a user, you interact with. So, if you download an app such as Uber, everything you see is the front end. Similarly, when you visit your favorite website, everything you navigate around is the front end. Likewise, when you sue social media channels such as Facebook or Instagram, or utilize business tools such as Google Drive, this is always the front end that you are speaking with.
But there is always a back end too, which is the place where the app or website gets developed, and that’s where cloud computing comes in. Behind every app or website there are such things as code (something a little intangible if you are not a developer) and then all of the other features that commonly makeup an app or site, such as the databases and storage space. But like the memory on your computer, this all has to be kept somewhere, right? And indeed it is. It’s just that, in the past, every developer would have been responsible for hosting and storing those features themselves.
Not any more. Because now there are cloud computing providers who operate on a huge scale. Who are these providers? Well, you will recognize many of the names. There is Amazon Web Services. There’s Microsoft Azure. How about Google Cloud Platform? Or Oracle Cloud, Verizon Cloud, or IBM Cloud. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but you can see that many of the major players in the tech industry operate there own cloud services of which anybody can avail of, for a fee of course.
The biggest players have storage services on an industrial scale – whole warehouses with servers which store all of the information that you associate with the ‘cloud’. So, you information is not floating around in the air at all, but physically stored, as it was before, on a server, somewhere. It’s just that these servers now operate on an eye-watering scale, and are based out there somewhere that you don’t even now, or don’t even need to know. And the beauty of it? All you need is an internet connection to access it.
“Whether you are in your office, at home, or on vacation in some far-flung corner of the world, as long as you have an internet connection, you can access what you have saved previously, or the CMS of your own organization, that used to be kept in. one physical location either in your office building, or more likely in a secure, off-site location,” says Alan Quested, a content manager at BigAssignments and State Of Writing.
What type of cloud-based solutions are there?
When we speak about the ‘cloud’, there is more than one model that can be utilized as a user. Which one you choose to use really depends on the kind of features and services that you are looking for. Here are some examples:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
This is a really common option as it simply delivers the backend solution that a lot of small businesses are looking for. It’s a flexible solution too, depending on what you really need, and for that reason is probably one of the most often-selected models for those first starting out with cloud-based models of doing business.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a step up from the IaaS option as now you have the capability, as a business, to have a whole online platform, from the hardware to the operating system, which is stored and delivered by the cloud. With this kind of option, your developers have a tremendous amount of frameworks and deployment tools to work with which enable you, as a business, to continue to create sophisticated services and applications.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a Service (SaaS), as the name suggests, offers applications to be accessed as a service, and is most likely the option that you would have used previously, if you have utilized cloud-based services previously. And the thing is, you would have done, probably even without realizing it, because most of the companies, brands and service providers that you know use cloud-based services. Amazon, Facebook – you name it!
When it comes to the actual deployment of a service, there are two main cloud computing options to avail of. These are what are known as the full cloud, and the hybrid cloud. As the names suggest, full cloud is exactly what is says – a 100% cloud-based services. It some cases the application will have been developed on the cloud, whereas in other cases, the application is migrated over once built.
The hybrid cloud is a great option if you already have existing company servers, but want to avail of cloud-based services. That’s because you can partly migrate what you have built and what you need to store. What would you select a hybrid model? Well, it may be that you want to take advantage of the inherent benefits of cloud computing, as previously listed, without making your existing system totally redundant. Your existing hardware may become redundant eventually, so a hybrid deployment model is a great option until that day comes, sop you can migrate over slowly but surely, scaling up as you go.
So when it comes to choosing a cloud option that works for you, and a provider, the only consideration that really matters is, ‘what do you need it for?’ Once you have ascertained this, then simply go out and explore the options and the price plans, because the actual providers themselves do not differ greatly in their offerings.
Consumer clouds and business clouds
Consumer cloud services and business cloud services, also known as a public cloud and internal or corporate cloud respectively, are offered depending on your circumstances. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure are all examples of consumer cloud services, because anyone can avail of them, paying as they go along. Business clouds allow businesses to purchase the services that they need, thereby delivering access only to those individuals who work for that business, or who are granted access. This can have greater security protection, as one important consideration, and indeed that is something that is extremely important to establish when looking at cloud-computing options and what kind of deployment model you are looking for.
“But very often the two concepts of consumer and business cloud are one and the same thing, as the likes of Facebook and Netflix use the same services as us mere mortals. But there is really only one ‘cloud’ as a concept, we are really talking semantics between deployment models and providers,” says Karen Moriarty, a tech writer at Assignment Service and Boomessays.
Are there any disadvantages to cloud computing?
As long as you have an internet connection, and you are regularly syncing your files to the cloud, then the disadvantages are not really any greater than the traditional storage methods.
However, it would be amiss not to mention those vital issues of privacy and security, which are those issues that people most readily associate with the cloud concept. Who can access my data?
Because cloud computing services are internet based, of course there is an inherent threat of a security breach. But all services use end-to-end encryption, and have extremely high levels of protocols and layers upon layers of security measures which would far exceed anything you have internally. Yes, there is a risk of course, but that risk is just as inherent with internal storage, and that certainly never prevented breaches in the past.
Another disadvantage of the cloud, and cloud-based services, is that you are never fully in control, because once you have migrated to the cloud, although you ‘own’ the content, you can’t control it. So if that provider failed to exist anymore, how would you access it? You would hope that if there was ever a danger of that happening, you would have ample notice and time to migrate elsewhere, but this is not just a cloud-based issue, it’s the same with your music collection. You may own the CDs, but do you have anything to play them on anymore? But really this is a terrible analogy, because in the case of data which already exists on the cloud, it will never be in the best interests of any of the stakeholders to make the way of sharing that information obsolete.
The cloud, a bit like real clouds, is ubiquitous. Everyone is using it, and of they are not, they soon will be. Did you know that in 2018, cloud spending was t $182 billion? Within four years, that number will have grown to an incredible $331 billion.
But it’s not surprising, because despite some of the disadvantages listed, the befits of the cloud are just to great. It enables businesses to streamline activities, and reduce spend on infrastructure, hardware and technical expertise. Access is available everywhere there is the internet, so as remote working becomes ever more prevalent, the cloud will support that fundamental change in the way, and where, people do work.
In terms of having an effective backup and recovery model if things go awry, the cloud also steps up, and where cyberthreats must be taken seriously, cloud provider have the means to tackle this issue on a much more effective scale than small businesses with the most unsophisticated of software. It really is no surprise that cloud spending will nearly double over the next four years. And as the issue of shared responsibility becomes ever greater, and businesses look for ways to synchronize and collaborate, the cloud will again facilitate this important business evolution. We are connected like never before, and the cloud is enabling that as scales never before seen. The future is exciting.