Every few years or so, there’s an inscrutable new business buzzword that dominates the tech industry. In the 90s, “synergy” and “paradigm” ruled the day. Nowadays, everybody is talking about “cloud computing”, an ephemeral and vague term that many trumpet but very few truly understand. In a sense, cloud computing is simply a new way to describe technologies that have been around in one form or another for years. It’s the manner in which those technologies are delivered and marketed that makes the difference. Below you’ll find a quick cloud computing primer that should clear up a few things.
What is Cloud Computing?
A cloud computing platform is any service delivered over the Internet that relies on remote servers running low-end software to handle all the heavy number crunching. Cloud services have existed since the birth of the World Wide Web over 20 years ago. If you use a hosted email service from Yahoo or Google, you’re using a cloud service. Cloud computing can abstract any service away from your local PC to a cluster of server machines housed in a datacenter hundreds or thousands of miles away. In a nutshell, it reduces costs, simplifies data backup and allows for 24/7 access by any customer.
Cloud Computing Technologies
If you actually want to understand the fundamentals of cloud computing, you’ll need to know about the three basic levels of the cloud. These are the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) models. IaaS is the lowest layer in the cloud sandwich and generally refers to virtualization services like OpenStack. PaaS works on top of IaaS installations and provides an environment in which cloud application software can run. Popular PaaS platforms include Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Finally, SaaS refers to the actual software that delivers services to end users. Common examples of SaaS include Google Apps, Facebook and Salesforce.
Various Types of Clouds
While the technologies behind cloud computing are immensely important, the manner in which they’re deployed is just as critical. There are a few different types of clouds that you should be familiar with. The most common variant is the public cloud, which is a commercial platform like Amazon Web Services that’s available to customers on a metered payment basis. Private clouds are custom, business-specific services that are generally maintained by a specific corporation or organization for use by their employees or members. Hybrid clouds are a mix of both public and private clouds, and their exact definition is a subject of some debate.
Cloud Computing Economics 101
Much like outsourcing tech support to a cheaper juridiction, cloud computing allows providers to cut costs and pass the savings on to consumers. To understand why cloud computing makes financial sense, brush up on economies of scale. A server on which an instance of a cloud computing technology is hosted can be pretty expensive. The typical Dell PowerEdge server will run into the thousands of dollars, and most users won’t get anywhere close to 100% resource utilization on their own. However, virtualization allows companies like Rackspace and Amazon to get the most utility out of each server without a drop in performance or availability.
Future Trends & Moving Forward
The entire cloud computing industry is based on the reality that bandwidth is fairly cheap and that servers are fairly expensive. As with carpooling, the intelligent sharing of computing power enables providers and clients to do more with less. The applications of cloud computing are practically limitless. Google’s Chromebook, for instance, is an example of a cloud platform where local software programs are merely clients that connect to cloud-based services hosted on remote servers. You can count on the cloud computing trend to accelerate in the coming years. As the reach and scope of the Internet continue to grow, more and more people will rely on the cloud for their daily computing needs.