What is Cloud Computing?

As technology grows and develops, cloud computing has been spreading itself further and further across new platforms. The term “cloud” comes from a metaphor on the nature on this computing format in that actions undertaken using a remote series of servers to back up work, collate information and download important tools from anywhere – as if drawing vapour from clouds in the sky. Though this term was previously used to describe telephone networks, it finds a much more fitting home in internet-based work, ingeniously providing virtual services from anywhere. In fact, you’ve most likely indulged in cloud-based computing already, with its common incorporation into popular services. Video and music streaming services use a form of global cloud technology, meaning that you won’t have to download an entire television series or album to watch it on demands. It’s also utilised in pre-packaged computer software, allowing the option to save crucial documents outside of your system, to have on hand should they become lost.

Cloud-based technology is truly an advancement to be applauded – for those of us who remember having to keep a lockable container of floppy disks on hand, memory computing has come in leaps and bounds in less than a lifetime. Wireless sharing solutions have been a thing for as long as the 1970s, with the dawn of email and simple text sharing. It has since evolved into a veritable bastion of nebulous information, unseen physically yet holding such influence and giving the helping hand to new innovations. Peer-to-peer sharing allows businesses and individuals alike to pass along ideas. An entire project – be it business, artistic, personal or beyond – can find its home in the cloud, with all parties involved able to access any part (or certain parts) of it. Maybe you have a new business start-up developed between yourself and others, or maybe you’re creating a cutting-edge new application – all it requires is a cloud computing hub of memory or creation. The director of this project could upload a brief for the business and every other component they have amassed so far. The rest of the team can log into the cloud storage, access the memory and pull up everything that has been posted so far – no need to download the file, track it down in their folders and wait a lifetime for it to open.

Some cloud providers will allow editing and highlighting of documents within the cloud – take Google Drive, for instance. Google Drive is a popular cloud storage location that allows its users to create folders within its storage and allow them made private, public or password-accessible. With this, the aforementioned new business could create a private folder in their personal Google Drive account and set it to only be accessible to other contributors to the business. The business brief here could be posted as a solid uneditable .pdf, where the contributors can freely read and download at their pleasure, or the text could be posted as an internal Google Drive document, where contributors can make their own notes or even edit what the text itself says for other users’ reference. Say one of the contributors to this project has developed something other than text – maybe they’ve created a short video, or a file specific to the software being used to develop their app. This can also be shared onto the cloud’s memory. If it’s a compatible video file, then it could be played straight out of the cloud and viewed in the same window you would find the brief text. Other, and more specific, files might only be viewable after being downloaded, but still quick to upload and accessible to download on most viable and cloud-accessing devices. And there, in one easy use of a cloud-based storage platform, you have created a simple and accessible hub for an entire project – one where any of the contributors will hardly have trouble tracking down particular documents, and, and one where everything is at your fingertips.

This is just one of the most common ways of utilising cloud computing for a business project, and possibly the simplest. With cloud-based storage’s prevalence in most of today’s technology, there’s a chance you’ve already used it for this kind of project. In fact, a lot of word processing software may ask you if you would like to save a project to the cloud, or a client might have shared information on their project with you via a link to a cloud storage space, rather than an email with the relevant documents attached. If, for some reason, you haven’t taken advantage of cloud storage. However, you might have already used the advantages of cloud-based computing and not even known about it.

Commonly used streaming services, like Netflix and Youtube, use a cloud-based platform to show videos without having to download an application or having to download each and every video. The services themselves are cloud platforms, while the videos themselves (or music tracks, in the case of things like Spotify) are located in cloud storage, making a synergetic use of two forms of cloud computing to deliver ground-breaking entertainment.

What you’ve seen in popular movie streaming services and document backup is just the tip of the cloud computing iceberg – a computing system with this level of reach and versatility has all the potential you can expect, and more. The cloud, like its namesake, is unrigid and widespread – making it perfect for developers to manipulate in a variety of ways, and coming in many different forms.
There are three flagship types of cloud computing, with others growing and changing over time. These three services are known as software-as-a-service (SAAS), infrastructure as a service (IAAS) and platform-as-a-service (PAAS). These types allow for different kinds of productivity – be they software development, installation and even virtual computers – and all accessible on-demand with little need for downloading.

Software-as-a-service, or SAAS, is typically used for providing applications straight to a user, working as a distribution model for software. A third party provider, having developed a useful tool, can host this via the cloud – allowing it to be used without the need to install. What’s more is that they don’t usually have to be purchased – making them efficient for organisations to find and access, and eliminating the need and software ability to run, install and wrangle the licensing for such products.

On the other side of this process sits platforms-as-a-service, or PAAS. platforms-as-a-service is a cloud computing model that provides the tools for software development, rather than simply running the software. Much like software-as-a-service, platforms-as-a-service frees users from the burden of installing and maintaining software, with all this accessible from the cloud. It also frees the physical and virtual space that would typically have been taken up by hardware and software installation. With platforms-as-a-service, developers can create and run applications from the cloud. It manages this previously unthinkable feat by building and supplying an optimised environment, where users can put their full focus on creating applications rather than maintaining the software they need to do it with.

Infrastructure-as-a-service, or IAAS, may be the most versatile of all the cloud computing types. infrastructure-as-a-service not only provides the user with a software from which to work, but provides them with a virtual computer to work from. Virtual computers, or virtual machines, run as a proxy on a physical computer with a full operating system, home screen and all the capabilities accessible from the virtual computer window. Multiple virtual computers can run at once on a user’s own machine, allowing many tasks to be performed at once. Infrastructure-as-a-service provides users with not only access to virtual computers, but also the ability to set them up and install more processes onto them. Infrastructure-as-a-service can, effectively, free up almost an entire office space with the power it offers its users – where most of the infrastructure-as-a-service’s processes would have been traditionally present in an on-premises data centre, the infrastructure-as-a-service model provides an entire virtual infrastructure. This includes servers, storage, and network hardware – with abilities stretching out further into ease of billing, infrastructural monitoring, security and resilient storage – all via a network of user-created virtual machines. They tend to create versatile and very cost-efficient work environments for the companies who utilise them, capable of handling hefty workloads without the need for purchasing and managing the infrastructure equipment. It’s project management without committing to costly resources, making it perfect for short-term workloads.

IAAS services, as well as the others, are often provided and sold by larger third-party organisations, most notably the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) – however, its possible for businesses to set up a private cloud internally, offering IAAS services within its own walls independent of any other provider – or even renting or leasing the cloud-based infrastructure from other businesses.

The momentum of cloud computing’s influence doesn’t show any signs of stopping, and with the versatility of the service, it’s obvious to see why. On-demand video streaming is now the norm, and on this base and widely known level, providers unceasingly try to improve on the efficiency of their platforms. Every day, online clouds swell larger and larger with data – innovators ever expanding their capacity and speed of which they can drink up data. The benefits of cloud computing are undeniable.