It is no surprise that cloud computing has become increasingly popular as the years progress. This is because cloud computing is flexible, scalable, and affordable. Add to that the “pay as you go” charging scheme and everything is self-service.
However, there are quite a number of people who do not know what cloud computing really is. Sure, almost all of us who are not living under a rock will have heard about cloud computing, but only a handful would be able to explain what cloud computing is.
Cloud Computing: What is it?
Traditional hosting services allow you to put your files on one dedicated server. Cloud computing, on the other hand, makes use of several physical servers acting as one. It uses virtualization technology to bring these physical servers together, allowing them to share or pool resources. As such, these servers are able to give you the resources you need, no matter how big or small your business requires.
The shared resources, software, data, and platform are delivered via the Internet. As such, the Internet is also the most preferred way to access the cloud. There are instances when dedicated networks and intranets are used in lieu of the Internet.
What can you get from cloud computing?
A lot, including servers, networks, platforms, storage, services, and applications. All of these are shared and accessed by several users.
The Main Attributes of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing has five main characteristics that sets it apart from traditional hosting services. These are:
- Self-service and on-demand. Cloud computing allows you to access applications, e-mail, server, and network services without having to talk to another human being. You can just set up your account, provide your billing and financial details, and then choose what you need from the menu of services that the provider offers. All of these are done through a user-friendly online interface.
- Wide network access. All services offered by a cloud computing provider are delivered over a network, such as the Internet, an Intranet, or a dedicated network. Anyone can access these services no matter what time it is and no matter where they are, given the right access credentials.
- Pooling of resources. Cloud providers give all their customers the same resources, but each customer would have their own environment. The resources being offered are pooled from a number of servers that are located in several data centers in various parts of the world. If one server goes offline, you can still get the resources you need from another server. If the data center becomes unavailable, you can still rely on other data centers. This means that cloud computing has fewer risks of failure.
- Rapid elasticity. Cloud computing is very flexible, as you can easily and quickly scale out to match your demand. With the cloud, you can easily add more resources if you need it or scale down when you don’t.
- Metered service. Cloud computing is a metered service, where you only pay for the resources that you actually use. This works the same way as your electricity bill, where you only pay for the electricity that you actually use.
The Main Cloud Service Models
In cloud computing, there are three main service models: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
- Software as a service is probably what most people use and is how cloud computing gets introduced to new users. With SaaS, businesses and developers can use applications that are developed and created by third party companies. The SaaS vendor would host the data and the application itself, and this enables the user to access both from anywhere in the world. Most SaaS offerings are deployed over a network and may be accessed using nothing else other than a Web browser or a program interface. SaaS touches on just about everything, from e-mail to sales leads, to inventory control, and even to database management. SaaS is often judged by its performance and application uptime.
- Platform as a service gives users the tools needed to develop software. The service provider hosts these tools. With PaaS, software and application developers can create their own Web sites, applications, & software, and then host it on the service provider’s platform. They do not have to worry about server or hardware maintenance, load balancing, operating systems, and even computing resources. You do not even have to own, manage, and operate your own systems! PaaS can be used to provide runtime scenarios, integration and cloud storage, among others. Some well-known PaaS services include Google App Engine, Force.com, and Windows Azure.
- Infrastructure as a service providers give their users storage, servers, systems software, and networks they need to create their own data center. Think of it as being able to use all of your service provider’s computers. Resources offered by IaaS providers typically include servers, network, virtualization layers, and storage, all managed by the provider. But unlike SaaS, you have control over the deployed applications, as well as the operating systems you use. Popular IaaS services include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Go Grid, and Rackspace Cloud.
Three types of cloud solutions
There are three types of cloud solutions: public, private, and hybrid cloud.
Public cloud. The public cloud is readily available to anyone with access to the Internet. Public cloud services are shared by millions of users from all over the world. This is the most affordable and the easiest cloud solution that you can use. The only downside is that you might not want to keep your sensitive data on public cloud because you are sharing the resources with all customers of the public cloud provider.
Private cloud. If you have sensitive information and privacy is a leading concern for you, then you should consider using the private cloud. Private clouds cater to just one customer, YOU. You have exclusive access to a data center or proprietary network. You can lease the hardware you need, or you can supply your own. You also have the option to manage everything yourself or have a third party company do it for you. Businesses in the health care and financial industry, as well as others in highly regulated sectors, usually opt for private clouds. With a private cloud, you do not have to worry about limitations in network bandwidth, vulnerabilities, and even have an easier way to comply with regulations. You can also enjoy better resiliency, accountability, and security with a private cloud. All of these benefits, however, come with a hefty initial capital investment. Plus, time to market usually takes longer.
Hybrid cloud. The hybrid cloud, as the name implies, takes the best of both public and private clouds and offers users a way to safeguard their sensitive data without having to spend too much and without sacrificing portability. With a hybrid cloud, you are not locked in to a single vendor, plus there is less downtime and data loss. Your systems are highly available and accessible from anywhere. But hybrid clouds can prove to be very costly.
Photo courtesy of Christa Gampp (Flickr).