An Explanation of the Cloud

An Explanation of the Cloud

The “Cloud” is such a trendy, heavily used buzz term this days, but do you really understand the cloud and can you explain it? What is it? Do you need it?

If someone were to ask you what the cloud is, you could simply just quote this Wikipedia article on cloud computing:

Cloud computing, also known as on-demand computing, is a kind of Internet-based computing, where shared resources, data and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.

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.

Illustration of Cloud Computing via Wikipedia

That’s a mouthful, right? It’s also a lot for the average person to commit to memory just in the off chance of ever being asked. Plus, it may be a confusing for those who are not techno-savvy. Also, who’s going to keep this photo on their phone to show someone when asked? Not me…so, what is the cloud?

What Is the Cloud?

Basically, for consumers, this means that all of your digital stuff (photos, videos, and documents) is stored somewhere so you do not have to worry about it, yet you can access it wherever you are or using whatever device you’re currently on. Apple’s iCloud is a great example, especially with the large number of smartphone (not to mention the usual plethora of tablets, computers, wearable devices and home automation gadgets), users currently aware of and using it.

Apple’s iCloud

The “cloud” is a generic term used to describe whichever company’s network of servers to which you connect.  In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of on your smartphone or computer’s hard drive.

Using this base understanding, we can now move forward.

Consumer vs. Business

While sitting at home on the couch or sipping coffee at the local cafe, millions of consumers use the Internet to check email, update a Facebook status, organize a photo album or chat with a distant relative. But what about small-to-medium business (SMB), or a large corporation?

This is where the “cloud” diverges, especially with the service type of cloud. There are three different service types of cloud computing (as per the NIST definition below), where different services are being provided and there may be some overlap between them. The generally accepted definition of Cloud Computing from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is…

Cloud Computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

NIST also offers up several characteristics that it sees as essential for a service to be considered “Cloud.” These characteristics include:

  • On-demand self-service. The ability for an end user to sign up and receive services without the long delays that have characterized traditional IT.
  • Broad network access. Ability to access the service via standard platforms (desktop, laptop, mobile etc).
  • Resource pooling. Resources are pooled across multiple customers.
  • Rapid elasticity. Can scale to cope with demand peaks.
  • Measured service. Billing is metered and delivered as a utility service.

Businesses can choose from the following services:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – a business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. Examples include Google documents, and Microsoft’s Office online.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) – a business can create its own custom applications for use which allows for the creation of web applications quickly and easily without the complexity of buying and maintaining software and hardware infrastructure.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) – a business rents an infrastructure backbone available from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace (Netflix provides online content as an Amazon Web Services (AWS) customer).
Cloud Stack

Types of Cloud

  • Public – resource dedicated to organization or customer (best for small business).
  • Private – resources shared by multiple customers (best for businesses with a large customer base).
  • Hybrid – a combination of shared and dedicated resources (flexible for businesses needing both public and private networks for staff and customers).
  • Community – a hybrid form of private clouds built and operated specifically for a targeted group.

Big Companies in the Cloud

  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • VMware
  • IMB SmartCloud
  • Adobe Creative Cloud

Videos on The Cloud

As per VMware

To learn more, visit: VMware Communities YouTube Channel

As per Amazon Web Services (AWS)

To learn more, visit: What is Cloud Computing?

As explained by Katie Couric

What are your thoughts on the cloud? Share your thoughts about this story in the Comments section below, via Twitter @cloudflak

IMAGE: Featured image courtesy of hywards at hywards’s portfolio

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