What exactly is cloud computing? A Layman’s Guide to the Cloud.

Cloud computing is a combination of technologies that make up a network for the delivery of computing services. It requires hardware for infrastructural purposes and software to deliver the on-demand services over the internet. Users of cloud services are not actively involved in the management of the network.

Read further for a bit more detail.

14th March 2019 | Blog

Cloud computing allows people to use online services that are generally available through any device with an internet connection. This means that the user does not need to be at a certain location or take care of their own costly infrastructure. The very basis for the cloud to exist is the internet (which is not the same as the web, but more on that later).

‘The Cloud’ is everywhere these days. Some examples of companies that provide services through the cloud:

  • Airbnb, hospitality services
  • Netflix, video streaming
  • Zynga, online games
  • Spotify, music streaming
  • Slack, team collaboration tools
  • Adobe Systems, creativity software

Perhaps you use some of the above services and have never realized that these are cloud computing services.

The examples all have a few things in common:

  • The user is in no way involved with the active management of the service;
  • To gain access you don’t need to be physically present at the service’ network location;
  • The services are on-demand, meaning that they are available whenever the user wants it.

Some networks use computer power to run online applications, others to provide a service, such as webhosting. Still, others are only utilized for storing data. Generally speaking we can divide all of the different services into three layers of the cloud. The primary objective of a cloud computing network is based on what layers its users have access to.

Essentially, the cloud consists of three distinctive layers: Infrastructure, platforms, applications. The Infrastructure of any cloud network is the most fundamental hosting layer that anything else is built on. It is also the most physical layer, including hardware such as servers, storage capacity and memory. The people running this layer are usually IT administrators.

Build on the infrastructure is the Platform layer. Platforms are locations in the cloud where applications are build, identities managed, and files executed. Traditionally, software developers are the most common users of this layer. With the introduction of low-code development platforms the building capabilities are simplified so that anyone can develop applications.

The most varied layer is where the Applications reside. This is already made clear with the examples of cloud services above. There is an endless list of possibilities here, including applications for content, collaboration, communication, finance, or the management of any of these.

The service models of the cloud

Cloud providers offer different types of service. Currently, the three most common cloud models are: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): The most basic service is IaaS. The organization is provided with remote servers, storage capacity and other hardware in the cloud. It saves the organization office space and large hardware investments. Additionally, it is easy to scale up (or down) and you only pay for what you use.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): The customers of PaaS providers can build, run and manage applications by themselves, without too much complexity. The organization does not need to invest in building and maintaining the architecture of the platform, this is incorporated into the service. The building blocks that are required for creating an application are already present in the platform, making it faster to assemble an application than with traditional software building.

Software as a Service (SaaS): Ready-to-use applications that are accessed online via subscription fall under the category Software as a Service. Many SaaS applications run directly from a web-browser or (mobile) app and do not require a local installation, but this is not a requirement. It is also known as on-demand software, which is perhaps easiest to comprehend with the examples of streaming services in mind.

Difference between the internet and the web

The internet and the web are not the same thing. Surprise! (If you knew this already just skip the paragraph.)

The internet is a network of networks, lots of them. They include the networks at schools and businesses, mobile networks, even satellites. The internet is what ties them all together. The World Wide Web, or just web, allows us to access all these networks through the internet. Other systems that use the internet for transferring information include email and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. And let’s not forget blockchain technologies such us bitcoin, which also distribute data over the internet. There are many more of these systems, like, for example, the cloud! The information that you consume through the cloud has been delivered to you over the internet. At the same time this information might be retrieved from a website that is hosted by the web.

So it is all very much connected and interdependent.

Privacy, Security and Compliance

A common misconception about cloud computing as opposed to on-premise resources is that cloud services are not as secure. There are also oftentimes privacy and compliance concerns, especially when the organization works with financial, personal or other sensitive data.

Tripwire has published an excellent article on this that I would like to quote: “The cloud is certainly different from on-premises resources, so it makes sense that security would be different, too. It follows that organizations must sometimes rethink how they’re currently doing things with respect to implementing security in the cloud.”

Vital to making the cloud secure are the security controls. These can include (but are not limited to) encryption of connections, data and banking information, and segregation of duties in the application or on the platform. If you’re really looking into cloud providers, also make sure to check their certificates.

Conclusion ‘What is the Cloud’?

The cloud is a network of servers that vendors provide for a wide range of online (on-demand) services. We recognize three different layers of cloud services:

  • Infrastructure (servers, storage capacity, and other hardware)
  • Platform (the building blocks developers can use, without the hassle of maintaining the network architecture)
  • Applications (software)

Cloud service providers offer these layer in three different services: Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service. This concludes the very basics of cloud computing. It’s a technology that is still relatively new, as the adoption grows, so too will the wide range of products and services.

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