Cloud computing allows you to store and access data and programs over the Internet, instead of clogging up computer hard drives. Essentially, it means internet-based data storage for greater accessibility and collaboration between stakeholders.
Where did the term originate?
It can be traced back to the 1960s, when the cloud symbol (big, puffy and white) was used on flowcharts and diagrams to symbolise the concept of the Internet, illustrating how a server-farm infrastructure could accept connections and push out information, as it merrily floats around.
Can you sell it to me in a sentence?
Advocates claim cloud computing allows companies to avoid up-front infrastructure costs (like servers), allowing them to focus on their core businesses, instead of spending time, money and resources on computer infrastructure (and its maintenance), while also allowing documents to be worked on by several people to avoid the risk of duplication and use of out of date file versions.
Does everyone get the same service?
Cloud services can be divided into three categories:
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
- Platform as a service (PaaS) and
- Software as a service (SaaS)
IaaS lets users migrate workloads to a virtual machine where they have allocated storage capacity and can start, stop, access and configure the virtual machine and storage, to suit their needs.
PaaS providers host development tools on their infrastructures and users access them over the internet using APIs, web portals or gateway software. It’s the model most used for software development and many host the software post-development. Big hitter PaaS providers include SalesForce.com and Google App Engine.
Then there’s SaaS, a distribution model that delivers software applications or web services over the internet. Microsoft Office 365 is a good example of a SaaS offering, where the only prerequisite is internet access.
Why are people using the cloud instead of hard drives?
The list of benefits associated with cloud computing solutions is long and growing all the time, most of which fall under flexibility, efficiency or offering some kind of strategic value for the business.
- You can scale services to suit your business, so you’ll always have what you need and avoid paying for bundled services that you don’t.
- You can choose from private, public and hybrid storage depending on your data and security needs and because space is infinite, you don’t need to worry about regular purges if you’re happy to pay for it to stay there.
- Access to services and data is guaranteed from anywhere in the world, provided you have an internet connection.
- You can control how that access is managed, so you can dictate who can see what information.
- It also comes with good data protection and internet security.
- Businesses that develop in the cloud claim they can get applications to market quicker.
- It’s based on remote resources, so organisations save on the cost of machinery like servers and in-office equipment.
- Businesses save on the time, money and resources it would take to build and manage storage or data centres.
- Having shared files means no time and effort spent working on out-dated versions of documents.
- Worldwide access means better collaboration on group projects, making remote working easier and time zones irrelevant.
- Service providers update their offering regularly, so users will always have the most up-to-date software and internet technology, without paying for upgrades.
- Streamlined processes, efficient work practices and an ‘always on’ approach allows businesses to use that speed of productivity to gain competitive advantage
Do cloud services differ for individuals and businesses?If all you see when looking at the cloud is something out of reach, consider outsourcing your IT support to expert consultants who can set up and maintain your cloud for you, acting as your virtual CIO.
They might not realise it, but individual users are probably using the cloud for everyday services.
You back-up your phone, calendar, photos and contacts… chances are, they’re in the cloud. You binge watch the latest real-life drama on Netflix… Netflix provide as much drama as you can take, as a cloud service customer of Amazon.
They tap into the same technology, but businesses obviously do it on a larger scale for software and server back-up.
How do service providers allow for that?
Cloud computing services can be private, public or hybrid.
Private cloud services are delivered from a business's data centre to internal users. It’s versatile and convenient and allows business owners to preserve the level of management, control and security they’re most comfortable with.
Using the public cloud model, a third-party provider delivers the cloud service over the Internet. It’s sold on demand, with customers buying it by the minute or hour, only paying for the central processing cycles, storage or bandwidth they use. Well known public cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM SoftLayer and Google Compute Engine.
As the name suggests, hybrid offers a combination of public and on-site private cloud services allowing customers to work between the two. That means, companies can run mission-critical workloads or sensitive applications on the private cloud and use the public cloud for work that can be scaled on demand.
The goal behind this model is to create a unified, automated, scalable environment that takes advantage of everything the public cloud infrastructure offers, while maintaining control over mission-critical data.
Are there examples I’d be familiar with?
Google Drive is a cloud computing service, with all the storage found online, so it can work with cloud apps like Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides. In fact, most of Google's services - Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps and so on - could be considered cloud computing.
Apple iCloud is used primarily for online storage, backup, and synchronising mail, contacts and calendar.
Amazon Cloud Drive is another, providing storage for anything you buy digitally from Amazon: Things like music on Amazon MP3s, images and Kindle products.
Is it all good or are there arguments against the cloud?
When it comes to the cloud versus server debate, some experts have a problem with the fact that ISPs, telcos and some media companies control access. So, putting all your faith in the cloud means putting all your faith in continued, unfettered access. You might well get it, but it’s going to cost you and the price is likely to go up as cloud service companies find new ways to make you pay, like we saw with metered service and charging for bandwidth.
Others suggest caution regarding going whole hog, in the hope of avoiding an outright disaster if there’s a crash or unforeseen event. Problems at companies like Amazon have brought down giants such as Netflix and Pinterest in the past, albeit temporarily. Outages have also been experienced at Dropbox, Gmail, Basecamp, Adobe, Evernote, iCloud, and Microsoft. Even Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, AOL, Level 3, and Google have had wobbles that lasted a few hours. That may not seem like a long time, but considering the amount of users involved, even an hour offline could mean huge losses in revenue, which is why it is important to have an IT Business Continuity Plan in place. (You can download our BCP checklist here):
The question of intellectual property rights comes up every now and then too. Who really owns the data you store online? Is it you or the company storing it? And why is there a difference between the data I upload and the data I create in the cloud?
Providers can change their terms of service as often as they like (think of companies such as Facebook and Instagram and what they can do with your photos), so it’s wise to have a think about ownership and whether that could pose a problem for you down the line because there’s no central body governing use of the cloud.
Like lots of other technical innovations that have gone before it, Cloud computing is feeling its way into the future, but it’s showing no signs of stopping for breath.
The cloud is undoubtedly an effective tool to use, but if you have concerns over your organisation’s ability to use it properly, it might be worth looking to an IT consultant who can advise and act upon the best practices for you. Give pebble.it a call, and in the meantime, download our eBook on The Role of IT In Your Growing Agency: