At the most fundamental level, “cloud computing” describes technology services that are hosted in a remote data center rather than on the local hard drive in your office or home. Delivered as a service, pricing models are billed on a metered usage basis — you pay for whatever resources (CPU, RAM, storage etc) that your applications use.
Cloud computing services typically break down into three categories, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.
IaaS is effectively bare metal in a hosted data center. Your provider offers networking, storage, servers, and a virtualization layer. It is then up to you to install operating systems, applications, and database engines according to your needs.
The best-known examples are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
PaaS is a more complete offering. As well as infrastructure-level services, you can access the operating system, middleware, and runtime components. You then install the database engines and applications you need.
PaaS is perfect for hosted virtual-server deployments that can be deployed in minutes. Popular PaaS examples include Heroku, Elastic Beanstalk (provided by AWS), and Google App Engine.
SaaS provides the full technology stack, including the infrastructure, platform, and the application and data storage required for the service to function. Many SaaS companies are typically focused on a specific activity, such as CRM, productivity, marketing, or NoSQL databases.
The best-known examples of SaaS include Microsoft Office 365, G Suite from Google, Salesforce, and MongoDB Atlas.
In some operational instances, it may not be desirable to shift an entire function off-site. Hybrid cloud allows you to split functions between an on-premise data center and hosted resources to increase flexibility, scalability, and cost control while retaining maximum control.
Hybrid cloud deployments are often used to split processing from data. For instance, take real-time low-latency operations like IoT that need on-site processing capabilities for speed purposes. Once data has been processed and is no longer needed for immediate action, it can be moved to low-cost cloud archive storage. It is still accessible, but the burden of storage and managing capacity is shifted to the cloud provider.
On-premise data and systems are replicated to the cloud, ready to be spun up in the event of a localized disaster or data-loss event. DRaaS and BaaS can be used to replace traditional, costly co-location data centers.
Some providers have started to brand services to sound like cloud computing options — e.g. Software Development as a Service (SDaaS) or even Business Development as a Service (BDaaS). Although the cloud may be the ultimate destination for deliverables, this work is performed by human developers and cannot be considered true cloud computing.
Every variant of cloud computing has two common factors — off-site data centers and internet connections to access them. Server resources within these data centers are pooled to create an extremely large platform ready to host virtual services.
These pooled resources are configured to be highly elastic, allowing subscribers to access more storage or processing power as it is needed. Similarly, unused resources are released back into the pool when no longer required.
This on-demand use of resources offers almost infinite scalability and flexibility as your cloud computing needs change.
Cloud computing offers a range of benefits depending on the type of deployment and your strategic goals.
Increase operational flexibility – You can spin up new servers and resources within minutes, allowing you to seamlessly handle increased system demand. And you can scale back just as quickly.
Reduced capital expenditure – Billed on a pay-as-you-use subscription model, cloud services ensure you always have enough processing and storage resources available to handle surges in demand. And you may never need to invest in on-premise redundancy ever again.
Increased operational resilience – Cloud services are typically spread across multiple data centers, adding an additional layer of protection against localized outages. If a cloud provider’s data center fails, the system seamlessly fails over to another node without affecting your operations.
Reduced overheads – With service providers managing and maintaining the hardware and virtualization layers, your engineers can focus on the application and data layers.
In many ways, cloud computing is what you make of it. With so many different models and options available, backed by some significant operational benefits, it’s little surprise that the future of corporate technology is in the cloud.