What is Cloud Computing? A Complete Guide

cloud computing

Cloud computing is a relatively well-known term today.

As companies search for more flexibility and scalability in an ever-changing environment, cloud infrastructure offers unique growth opportunities. However, even as cloud platforms and providers’ demands grow, people remain uncertain about the definition of cloud computing.

Today, we’ll be introducing some useful insights into the nature of cloud resources, how they work, and what they mean to the businesses of tomorrow. We’ll answer questions from “what is cloud computing?” to “what kinds of cloud resources are available today?”

Here’s your insight into the cloud.

What is cloud computing? An introduction

Cloud computing is an umbrella (general) term for anything that involves using hosted services on the internet. Typically, cloud services fall into one of three primary categories: IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. We’ll break those down a little further soon.

A cloud platform can be private or public. While public cloud solutions can offer services to anyone online, private clouds are proprietary data centres or networks that supply hosted services to specific people. Private cloud services come with unique access and permission settings to ensure protection for sensitive data.

The term “cloud computing” comes from the cloud symbol that often represents internet connections in diagrams and flowcharts. A full cloud infrastructure involves all the components required for cloud computing, from SaaS applications to real-time data analytics, and more. Some high-performance cloud platform solutions also come with access to disruptive technology, like AI.

What are the benefits of cloud computing infrastructure?

Currently, the cloud computing market will reach a value of $718.07 billion by 2027, driven by demand for great flexibility, scalability, and opportunities for business continuity.

The biggest appeal of cloud computing is that it allows companies to scale applications and features dynamically. Cloud storage services can grow according to your needs, while cloud applications evolve naturally over time. Today’s companies are using cloud services for everything from the digital transformation of business operations, to secure storage of big data and more.

The flexibility of the cloud also means that companies can unlock new functionality in their ecosystem at the touch of a button. Cloud services range from automation tools that reduce backend data entry to artificial intelligence and IoT applications. Many cloud leaders are already experimenting with machine learning and another disruptive tech.

Different types of cloud computing service

Different types of cloud computing service

Cloud computing solutions come in a range of solutions depending on the functionality of your business needs. The kind of cloud platform you get for something like SaaS will be very different from the cloud backend you want for big data management and block storage.

Let’s consider some kinds of cloud in greater detail.

SaaS (Software as a Service)

Software as a Service or “SaaS” is a kind of public cloud computing solution. With SaaS, you can deliver applications through the internet, usually in a browser. For instance, the G-Suite from Google is an example of SaaS, as is Microsoft 365 and Salesforce.

Cloud services delivered in a SaaS format can encompass anything from enterprise communication applications to customer relationship management tools and machine learning cloud applications. Many SaaS leaders today are beginning to offer advanced configuration options and development environments that allow developers to build their own cloud applications.

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)

Infrastructure as a Service or “IaaS” is another solution from public cloud service providers. With this cloud service, companies offer computing and data storage services, often on a pay-as-you-go basis. The full selection of cloud services offered by today’s providers is massive. You can unlock everything from virtual private networks (VPNs) to highly scalable cloud databases and machine learning tools.

IaaS services can cover machine learning, developer tools, application monitory systems, and more. Amazon Web Services is currently among the best-known IaaS providers, alongside IBM and Google Cloud Platform.

PaaS (Platform as a Service)

Platform as a Service, or PaaS, is a solution providing sets of workflows and services targeted at DevOps. Developers in this landscape can use shared processes, tools, and APIs to accelerate the deployment of enterprise applications. For instance, Heroku from Salesforce is a popular cloud PaaS solution, as is Cloud Foundry from Pivotal.

Platform as Service solutions ensures that developers have easy access to the resources they need and follow certain processes to achieve their goals. While developers innovate and build, the PaaS cloud service providers maintain the IT infrastructure of the service underneath.

FaaS (Functions as a Service)

Functions as a Service or FaaS technology is a slightly lesser-known set of cloud computing services in the current environment. This is essentially the cloud version of “serverless” computing, which adds another layer to PaaS so that developers are insulated against anything in the stack beyond their code.

Rather than working with virtual servers, application runtimes, and containers, they upload functional blocks of code and set them to trigger from a specific event, such as a form submission or an uploaded file. All the major cloud providers currently offer FaaS on top of IaaS, such as Google Cloud Functions, and Azure Functions.

Private Cloud

We’ve mentioned the private and public cloud environments already, but let’s take a closer look at what it really means to access public or private cloud services. In a private cloud environment, you downsize the number of technologies required to run IaaS public clouds, into software that you can deploy and operate in a customer data centre.

Similar to the public cloud, people using private cloud resources can provision their own virtual resources. Using these tools, it’s possible to build, run, and test applications. For administrators, the private cloud offers the best possible support for data centre automation. Companies minimise manual management and provisioning and enhance cloud opportunities.

Common examples of private cloud solutions include OpenStack, for open-source performance, and VMWare’s Software-Defined stack. Interestingly, some experts argue that private cloud solutions don’t conform to the full definition of cloud computing. A private cloud asks organisations to build and maintain their own infrastructure. However, the cloud, in general, is a service.

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Hybrid Cloud

The hybrid cloud is an integration of public and private cloud solutions. In its most advanced form, hybrid clouds generally include the creation of parallel landscapes where applications can shift from one ecosystem to another. However, there are instances of hybrid clouds where databases may remain in the customer data centre and integrate with public applications.

Teams can also replicate virtual data centre workloads into the cloud during moments of peak demand to form a hybrid environment. The kinds of integrations between public and private solutions vary, but the connections available need to be extensive for something to be a “hybrid” cloud.

Public APIs

As the cloud landscape continues to grow more flexible and customisable, new solutions are emerging in the form of application programming interfaces. Similar to the way that SaaS solutions provide applications to users through the internet, APIs give developers web-based access to application functionality. With public APIs, developers can access essential functions programmatically.

When building web applications, for instance, developers generally access the Google Map API to access things like driving directions. If you wanted to build an application that worked with social media, you’d use an API maintained by a company like LinkedIn or Facebook. APIs can even assist in adding new communication capabilities to an existing UC stack. Companies like Twilio deliver messaging and telephony APIs, alongside mobile app services. With these tools, any business can add new functionality to an existing tool.

Collaboration platforms

Collaboration platforms are an up-and-coming offering in the world of cloud computing services. In a world where the workplace is rapidly changing, collaboration platforms leverage the cloud to keep people and teams connected. The tools included in a cloud collaboration platform depend on the cloud computing provider you choose. Services like RingCentral Glip offer easy messaging to engage in conversations with colleagues almost in real-time.

Services like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Avaya Spaces support file sharing, video and audio conferencing, and other helpful features. Many of the leading cloud providers investing in collaboration also provide APIs that allow customers to augment the functionality of their tools with new things like CRM connections, or bots.

UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service)

The evolution of the “software as a service” environment is prompting a transformation in the way that companies consume technology. This is particularly true in the communication space. Unified Communications or “UC” refers to a platform that combines all of the communications tools a company needs into a single environment. As the communication channels available continues to evolve, these environments are growing and changing too. Unified Communications, as a Service, or UCaaS, helps businesses to stay on the cutting edge.

A UCaaS ecosystem builds on the flexibility of the software as a service model. With a cloud platform for unified communications, companies can access cloud data storage and cloud applications in the same place. You can add features for machine learning, messaging, and disaster recovery to your UC system in minutes. Your UCaaS provider can also help you with tapping into new cloud services and mobile apps without the need for excessive on-premises investment.

What about cloud computing security?

cloud computing security

The benefits of the cloud are significant, and they continue to grow more impressive with time. Unfortunately, there are still some challenges out there that are making it harder for some companies to embrace the cloud fully. Objections to the public cloud began with a focus on cloud security, and how safe companies could keep data housed in a cloud environment.

Today’s businesses are increasingly nervous about the integration of security policies, encryption, and identity management in a cloud landscape. Some government regulations in certain parts of the world even forbid companies from storing sensitive information off-premise. This makes it much harder to access a cloud landscape that can check all the right boxes for functionality and security.

Over the years, the security solutions available for cloud computing have evolved. Companies have begun to invest more time and effort into building in-depth encryption strategies to protect data from theft. At the same time, the right cloud services provider can often offer support for things like local data centres and local data management to help with sensitive information.

Despite these evolutions, many companies remain concerned about how secure cloud services can really be. In most cases, how safe your cloud technology is will depend on how secure your existing systems and investments are. Even with the support of encryption and security features from your provider, you will still need to have the right permissions, controls, and best practices in place.

Fortunately, there are opportunities in the cloud landscape today to access more advanced tools for secure computing. There are artificial intelligence tools that can spot potential data breaches in an instant and services that offer 24/7 monitoring of your systems. The key to success is working with the right cloud computing provider.

Time to get your head in the clouds

Despite years of innovation and growth in the cloud landscape, most people still see the cloud as new technology. It’s still sitting at a relatively early stage of adoption, and many companies are struggling to determine which apps and services they should move to the cloud for the sake of scalability and business continuity. It’s going to take a while before some larger enterprises feel 100% comfortable with the idea of shifting to the cloud.

However, cloud computing benefits for accessing essential resources and supporting business growth are too great for anyone to ignore. As we continue to make progress in all industries at break-neck speed, the cloud will be the only way for companies to contend with an ever-changing landscape and a growing ocean of data. Cloud technology is the only solution flexible enough to pivot and grow with businesses that can’t fully predict what their needs may be in the future.

Cloud computing isn’t just an idea anymore; it’s a reality for many businesses and an opportunity that continues to develop by the day.

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Sam O'Brien

Author

    Sam O’Brien is the Director of Digital and Growth for EMEA at RingCentral, a Global VoIP, video conferencing and call centre software provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as G2 and Hubspot. Here is his LinkedIn.