What is cloud computing?Posted on: November 2, 2022
Cloud computing delivers computing services and IT resources over the internet, rather than via physical data centres and physical servers. Services and resources typically covered by cloud computing include:
- data storage
- computing power
By hosting these resources in the cloud online – connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) – rather than on-premises, users can access them remotely using an internet connection, while also saving money, improving performance, enhancing security, and increasing speed, productivity, and efficiency.
How does cloud computing work?
Cloud computing runs on virtual servers that connect to large-scale data centres with the necessary infrastructure to store and protect data. This allows information and data to be stored in the cloud, as it’s known, rather than on physical devices, such as laptops, phones, and tablets.
Cloud computing typically operates using one of three different models.
Public cloud environments are owned by third-party cloud service providers. These providers operate and manage the cloud’s hardware, software, and other supporting infrastructure, and sell access to their cloud environment through pay-per-use models.
The advantage of using a public cloud is that organisations and small businesses, such as startups, can access secure, reliable cloud-based services and infrastructure through a web browser, all without having to pay to develop and manage their own cloud environment. However, public clouds may be unsuitable for storing confidential or sensitive data.
Private cloud environments are developed and used by a single organisation or business to manage their cloud computing resources. These bespoke cloud environments are created with specific business or user needs in mind, and can be customised to suit the organisation’s requirements. They may be hosted on a private network by the cloud owner, although some will be hosted on a private network by third-party providers.
The advantages of using a private cloud include greater cloud security, more customisability, and more control. However, they are also more expensive, and typically require in-house IT expertise to both develop and maintain the cloud environment.
As the name suggests, hybrid cloud environments are a combination of public and private cloud models. They use technology such as middleware or application programming interfaces (APIs) to effectively bridge the gap between private and public clouds, allowing data and applications to be shared back and forth.
There are also multiclouds. A multicloud is a collection of multiple cloud computing and cloud storage services – all from different service providers – that are all used within an organisation, but organised to exist within a single architecture.
The advantages of hybrid clouds include greater flexibility and better scalability while still being cost effective. However, they also require some level of organisational expertise owing to their complexity.
What are the different types of cloud computing services?
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service is considered the most basic – and the most common – service model in cloud computing. It allows organisations and businesses to rent or access fundamental IT infrastructure services on a pay-as-you-go basis. These services include:
- virtual machines
- operating systems
Infrastructure as a Service is available on public, private, and hybrid clouds, and offers users flexibility, reliability, and scalability without the need for on-premise hardware or mainframes.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Platform as a Service is one of the most invaluable development tools available. It provides the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, networks, and databases upon which developers can create, deploy, and manage applications. For example, PaaS supplies environments for developing, testing, and managing software applications, and was designed specifically to make web and mobile app development easier.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a Service provides users with a complete software product, and is typically associated with web-based end-user cloud applications such as browser-based email and messaging, or mobile apps. Software providers host and manage the software application in the cloud, and end users can access and use it without worrying about the infrastructure or maintenance behind the product.
Software as a Service usually operates on a subscription basis.
Serverless computing is an evolution of Platform as a Service, enabling developers to focus exclusively on building app functionality without the need to worry about infrastructure, servers, and so on. While the two are very similar, serverless computing typically offers greater scalability, speed, and can be more cost-effective, while PaaS offers more control and better support for long-running processes.
Examples of cloud computing service providers
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Amazon Web Services is the leader for public cloud infrastructure, holding almost half of the world’s public cloud infrastructure market.
AWS cloud infrastructure is used by organisations around the world for:
- data backup.
- disaster recovery.
- virtual desktops.
- software development and testing.
- big data analytics.
- customer-facing web applications.
Microsoft Azure is another example of a public cloud environment, and it also works in tandem with other cloud services – such as the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure – to create multiclouds.
Microsoft Azure is commonly used for:
- creating cloud-native applications
- storing, backing up, and recovering data
- streaming audio and video
- delivering software on demand
- testing and building applications
- analysing data
- embedding intelligence
Google Cloud and Google Drive
Google is well known in the world of cloud computing because it’s used by both businesses (Google Cloud) and individuals (Google Drive, as well as Google Photos).
Google Cloud promotes:
- high-performance computing.
- data centre migrations.
- data lake modernisation.
IBM Cloud is a hybrid, full-stack cloud platform that is used for:
- application modernisation
- backup and disaster recovery
- confidential computing
- edge computing
- financial services
Salesforce offers cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) solutions that work in tandem with artificial intelligence and machine learning features to optimise the user experience in real-time environments.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing?
The benefits of cloud computing include greater:
- Security, with cloud service providers responsible for regular security upgrades and patching. This is also a powerful tool for ensuring business continuity within organisations.
- Innovation, with both public and hybrid models freeing up capacity, bandwidth, and workloads for new development and DevOps.
- Cost savings, since pricing models mean that users typically only pay for the services they use, scaling up or down as required by the organisation or business.
Potential risks within cloud computing, however, include data loss and data breaches, outages, and malware attacks.
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