How the cloud works– Everywhere you turn, there is talk about running applications in the cloud, storing your photos in the cloud, or backing up data to cloud servers.
But just what is the cloud, and how does it work?
Cloud computing describes a platform where a user of computing resources and data storage no longer needs to be concerned with where the servers or computers reside, or even where the data is located.
Facilitated by the global power of the internet, businesses or service providers can “host” these critical functions from a sophisticated central location or group of locations – typically large, secure data centers.
Where Did the Cloud Come from?
The incredible proliferation of internet services around the world, enabled further by advances in digital technology: laptops, tablets, smartphones – has produced enormous demand for access to applications and data in real time.
Employees on the road or working from home need quick access to corporate information, and consumers are increasingly turning to mobile devices when searching for products and services.
Meeting these demands of the digital age drove the advent of cloud computing, where a service provider includes the two major components of the architecture:
This includes the physical components of cloud computing:
- The vast network of communications capability that allows us to connect to any server, from anywhere, at any time
- Servers that run the application programs for business, as well as social media services
- Storage – nearly unlimited arrays of disks and other media that house corporate and subscriber data
For cloud service providers, this infrastructure is often referred to as Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Of course, a network of servers does nothing for you unless you have access to applications. This is where software vendors and web designers come into play, providing:
- Business applications that include order processing, inventory, eCommerce, and more
- General use applications such as email services and mobile apps
- Social media applications: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, and many more
Making applications available to subscribers of cloud services is known as Software as a Service (SaaS).
It is the combination of internet networking, computing power infrastructure, and application technology that make cloud computing possible and attractive for businesses and consumers.
Variations in Cloud Computing Technology
There are three basic architectures that have been adopted from a technology view of cloud computing:
Many enterprises have built corporate networks structured as cloud environments, where employees and customers can access applications, email, and data from anywhere in world via virtual public networks (VPN) that appear as typical internet access, but are in reality, secure portals into business applications and data.
In a private cloud environment, the business retains the infrastructure and storage components, or subscribes to a service that provides dedicated servers and storage for the enterprise. Cost is incurred by the owner of the private cloud, such as the investment in servers and data storage.
Most of us are familiar with public clouds such as social media services (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) or public applications that allow sharing of video (Netflix, Amazon), photos, and opinions. In the public cloud, participants have no concern over the amount of computing power or storage that’s available, but there is typically no guarantee of total privacy or security.
Due to the lower level of security offered by most public clouds, businesses with high security concerns or business-critical data often turn to the private cloud option, or at minimum ensure their security needs are addressed by the provider of the public cloud.
Many large companies have adopted a hybrid solution for cloud computing. In this environment, the business may utilize a public cloud approach for such applications as email and accepting customer orders, yet retain critical information such as payroll and human resourced data in-house on a private cloud.
So Where is the Data?
Public cloud computing offers businesses the advantage of “virtualized” resources, where a cloud service provides the raw computing power (server capacity) contracted by the customer, including cloud storage capacity.
Depending on the details of the service agreement, storage in the cloud may include a fixed amount of storage capacity for the business, or may provide for data storage that is virtually unlimited. In many cases, the subscriber has only to request additional storage capacity, which is made available in real time.
This usually means that the expense to the subscriber is increased accordingly, but there is no initial capital outlay required.
Where the highest levels of data security and system availability are required, cloud hosting services often provide redundancy in not only computing resources, but by replicating client data to additional storage locations at a second location.
Advantages of the Cloud and Cloud Storage
A cloud computing approach has many advantages for businesses, regardless of size:
- High availability – access applications and data via internet connection, from anywhere, with any device.
- Advantages of cloud storage – storage capacity can be added quickly and at minimal cost. Often there is no initial cost for increased storage. Data may be stored in redundant locations.
- Pay as you go – pay only for resources you need, both for computing resources and storage.
- Reduced initial cost – no need for a business to invest in costly servers, storage, or secure data center infrastructure. Monthly subscription covers most expenses.
- Ease of upgrades – provider manages system upgrades such as server software, virus protection, and backup processing. Increased storage capacity is accomplished quickly and at lower cost.
- Financial benefits – in most cases, the cost of cloud computing is managed as an operating expense, avoiding requests for large capital outlays.
Meeting the computing needs of small or midsize businesses as well as global enterprises can be facilitated efficiently and cost-effectively through the adoption of cloud computing.