What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a general term for the delivery of hosted services over the Internet.


Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users and enterprises with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers. It relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services.

Cloud computing, or in simpler shorthand just "the cloud", also focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also dynamically reallocated per demand. This can work for allocating resources to users. For example, a cloud computer facility that serves European users during European business hours with a specific application (e.g., email) may reallocate the same resources to serve North American users during North America's business hours with a different application (e.g., a web server). This approach helps maximize the use of computing power while reducing the overall cost of resources by using less power, air conditioning, rack space, etc. to maintain the system. With cloud computing, multiple users can access a single server to retrieve and update their data without purchasing licenses for different applications.

The term "moving to cloud" also refers to an organization moving away from a traditional CAPEX model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the OPEX model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as one uses it).

Proponents claim that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of on infrastructure.[4] Proponents also claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand. Cloud providers typically use a "pay as you go" model. This can lead to unexpectedly high charges if administrators do not adapt to the cloud pricing model.

The present availability of high-capacity networks, low-cost computers and storage devices as well as the widespread adoption of hardware virtualization, service-oriented architecture, and autonomic and utility computing have led to a growth in cloud computing. Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and then scale down again as demands decrease.

Cloud computing enables companies to consume compute resources as a utility just like electricity rather than having to build and maintain computing infrastructures in-house.

Cloud computing promises several attractive benefits for businesses and end users. Three of the main benefits of cloud computing include:

  • Self-service provisioning: End users can spin up computing resources for almost any type of workload on-demand.
  • Elasticity: Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and then scale down again as demands decrease.
  • Pay per use: Computing resources are measured at a granular level, allowing users to pay only for the resources and workloads they use.

Cloud computing services can be private, public or hybrid.

Private cloud services are delivered from a business' data center to internal users. This model offers versatility and convenience, while preserving management, control and security. Internal customers may or may not be billed for services through IT chargeback.

In the public cloud model, a third-party provider delivers the cloud service over the Internet. Public cloud services are sold on-demand, typically by the minute or the hour. Customers only pay for the CPU cycles, storage or bandwidth they consume.  Leading public cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM/SoftLayer and Google Compute Engine.

Hybrid cloud is a combination of public cloud services and on-premises private cloud – with orchestration and automation between the two. Companies can run mission-critical workloads or sensitive applications on the private cloud while using the public cloud for bursty workloads that must scale on-demand. The goal of hybrid cloud is to create a unified, automated, scalable environment which takes advantage of all that a public cloud infrastructure can provide, while still maintaining control over mission-critical data.

Although cloud computing  has changed over time, it has always been divided into three broad service categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as service (SaaS).

IaaS providers such as AWS supply a virtual server instance and storage, as well as application program interfaces (APIs) that let users migrate workloads to a virtual machine (VM). Users have an allocated storage capacity and start, stop, access and configure the VM and storage as desired. IaaS providers offer small, medium, large, extra-large, and memory- or compute-optimized instances, in addition to customized instances, for various workload needs.

In the PaaS model, providers host development tools on their infrastructures. Users access those tools over the Internet using APIs, Web portals or gateway software. PaaS is used for general software development and many PaaS providers will host the software after it's developed. Common PaaS providers include Salesforce.com's Force.com, Amazon Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.

SaaS is a distribution model that delivers software applications over the Internet; these are often called Web services. Microsoft Office 365 is a SaaS offering for productivity software and email services. Users can access SaaS applications and services from any location using a computer or mobile device that has Internet access.  

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