Cloud computing refers to any kind of hosted service delivered over the internet. These services often include servers, databases, software, networks, analytics and other computing functions that can be operated through the cloud.
Files and programs stored in the cloud can be accessed anywhere by users on the service, eliminating the need to always be near physical hardware. In the past, for example, user-created documents and spreadsheets had to be saved to a physical hard drive, USB drive or disk. Without some kind of hardware component, the files were completely inaccessible outside the computer they originated on. Thanks to the cloud, few people worry anymore about fried hard drives or lost or corrupted USB drives. Cloud computing makes the documents available everywhere because the data actually lives on a network of hosted servers that transmit data over the internet.
Cloud Computing Service Types
Cloud computing services are broken down into three major categories: software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
SaaS is the most common cloud service type. Many of us use it on a daily basis. The SaaS model makes software accessible through an app or web browser. Some SaaS programs are free, but many require a monthly or annual subscription to maintain the service. Requiring no hardware installation or management, SaaS solutions are a big hit in the business world. Notable examples include Salesforce, Dropbox or Google Docs.
PaaS is a cloud environment supporting web application development and deployment. PaaS supports the full lifecycle of applications, helping users build, test, deploy, manage and update all in one place. The service also includes development tools, middleware and business intelligence solutions. Notable examples include Windows Azure, AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.
IaaS provides users with basic computer infrastructure capabilities like data storage, servers and hardware — all in the cloud. IaaS gives businesses access to large platforms and applications without the need for large onsite physical infrastructures. Notable examples of IaaS include DigitalOcean, Amazon EC2 and Google Compute Engine.
How Does Cloud Computing Work?
The cloud is basically a decentralized place to share information through satellite networks. Every cloud application has a host, and the hosting company is responsible for maintaining the massive data centers that provide the security, storage capacity and computing power needed to maintain all of the information users send to the cloud.
The most prominent companies hosting the cloud are major players like Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft (Azure), Apple (iCloud) and Google (Google Drive), but there’s also a plethora of other players, large and small. These hosting companies can sell the rights to use their clouds and store data on their networks, while also offering the end user an ecosystem that can communicate between devices and programs (e.g., download a song on your laptop and it’s instantly synced to the iTunes software on your iPhone).
Generally, cloud computing follows three delivery models:
This is the most common and all of the players mentioned above (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple & Google) run public clouds accessible anywhere with login credentials and the right web app.
This model offers the same kind of flexibility as the public cloud, but with the infrastructure needs (hosting, data storage, IT staff, etc.) provided by the companies or users of the service. Additionally, the restricted access and hands-on management of hosting gives the private model an extra layer of security.
Hybrid cloud computing is a combination of the public and private models. The two cloud types are linked over the internet and can share resources when needed (e.g., if the private cloud reaches storage capacity or becomes corrupted, the public cloud can step in and save the day).
What are the uses of Cloud?
Companies and individuals use cloud computing in a variety. In addition to some of the examples already covered, here is a quick look at some other important application areas.
Communication & Collaboration
The entire Google suite of applications is cloud-based, from calendar to Gchat. Additionally, so are popular apps like Skype and WhatsApp, and all empower people to communicate and collaborate on a global scale.
A combination of cloud computing and vastly improved internet speed has given rise to media streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu, which host enormous databases of movies and TV shows available via the cloud. The cloud allows these companies and others like Spotify and Tidal, to exist.
Big Data Analytics
Before the cloud, using big data to glean patterns and insights was a cumbersome and expensive process. The cloud has changed all that, eliminating the need for in-house development resources when compiling and analyzing data. Nowadays companies can collect data from a variety of sources, connect them to the cloud and dig for insights in real time.
Without the cloud, innovative tools like Salesforce, Slack and myriad others designed to enhance and streamline the daily operations of companies would not exist.
Cloud computing is an important answer to the issue of data-loss and recovery on physical hard drives. Most individuals who’ve owned a computer have experienced the stress of losing irreplaceable files. Whether it’s a term paper, family photos or the company payroll, cloud computing offers an easily accessible backup solution to keep data safe.