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Cloud Computing Explained

Cloud computing, or simply “the cloud”, is a metaphor for a group of remote servers that are used to provide computer resources, such as file storage or applications. Cloud computing provides a viable alternative to manually installing applications on a physical computer or an on-site data center.

By its nature, cloud computing has the following features:

  • Scalable – Also referred to as elasticity, this eliminates the guesswork involved in setting up a traditional data center. You can scale your usage of IT resources according to what you need.
  • Flexible – You can also access your data and applications anywhere as long as you can go online. You also get access resources to run nearly any type of workload, on demand. In fact, virtually anything that can be done with traditional data centers can be done with the cloud, including file storage, applications, music and video streaming, online email and messaging, and even gaming.
  • Pay-as-you go – You only pay for the resources you consume. By renting storage space from a provider, or running your applications on a virtual machine, you can avoid the up-front cost of purchasing a physical computer. The cost of using IT resources is spread out over time, so they are easily absorbed by your business cycle.

Cloud Service Models

There are three main categories for cloud services:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides access to virtual machines (VMs) in the cloud to store data or run workloads. Services include file storage, servers, load balancers, VLANs, etc. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a good example of IaaS.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) gives end-users access to development tools to create and run software. Typically included in the service are the operating system, the programming environment, the database, and the web server. Amazon Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine are examples of PaaS.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) provides software applications which users can access online. Since the software is installed and maintained on the provider’s infrastructure, end-users do not need to install it on their own machines and only pay for what they use. Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are examples of SaaS.

Kinds of Clouds

Clouds have different deployment models. The most common is the public cloud, which are services open to public use through the Internet. Examples include iCloud, Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft.

Another model is the private cloud. While private clouds are similar in architecture to the public cloud, they are available only to a certain organization, such as a company or business.

Finally, a hybrid cloud involves having two or more private and public clouds connected to and interacting with each other. Critical tasks can be run in the private cloud, while the public cloud can handle non-critical tasks or help out the private cloud during spikes in workload.

Security within the Cloud

Security and privacy persist are two major concerns with cloud computing. With public clouds, since you are uploading your data and applications to a third-party’s server, there is always the risk that your information may be stolen, deleted, or shared with unauthorized users. Private clouds, by contrast, are potentially more secure as companies have control of their own equipment as well as the security of its location (though this requires heavy investment in security).

Since it is in their best interest to protect their clients, cloud service providers heavily invest in securing their physical infrastructure, network integrity, and procedural safety. Still, hacking and data theft have occurred in the past. It is vital for users to check a cloud service provider’s reputation as well as study their security measures before deciding to partner with them.

On their end, users may mitigate some risks through proper user authentication, such as strong passwords and security questions. Authorization procedures within an organization also work to clarify who gets to access what data. Backing up critical data on several locations inside and outside the cloud is also a must.

As a maturing technology, cloud computing continues to change every year as more people join and demands change. While major challenges still linger, in the long run, the promise of further innovation outweighs the risk.

 

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