An Overview of Cloud Computing

Many businesses are now looking to cloud computing to reduce, and even replace, their internal IT infrastructure. Cloud computing not only stores data off-site, but it also offers new ways to increase productivity in an everyday business environment. Before making an investment in a cloud service or modifying your company infrastructure, you should know the basics of cloud computing.

Cloud computing isn’t really anything “new”; it’s been around for years. Technological advances, storage price drops and big companies willing to “rent out” server space and host applications found a way to make money while reducing costs for the customer. Running at a much larger scale, cloud computing now costs less and is faster to implement.

Cloud computing services refer to services that are delivered over a network and in most cases this is the Internet. These cloud services are normally referred to by their layer or platform. Here is a description of each cloud layer/platform:

1. Software as a Service (SaaS)
Perhaps the most recognized of the three cloud computing types, this platform offers applications as a service over the Internet. There are countless examples of this available today. For example, Google Docs and Gmail give you access to word processing and email in the cloud. No documents or mail are stored locally, giving you access to your content from anywhere. All backups and updates are handled on the back-end by the provider, greatly simplifying software management.

SaaS greatest advantage is that it makes data easily accessible, for any device with an Internet connection is able to access the application and data stored within it.

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS)
This type of cloud is more geared towards developers who want to build new applications. It provides a platform on which you can build applications usually linked to a particular vendor. This allows developers and development companies to launch new applications quickly and with minimal expense.

3/ Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
This encompasses storage services and computers running in a provider’s data center. The providers make them available as an on-demand utility, many times offering a small portion for free and allowing the option to pay for more space when needed. These types of services allow customers to launch applications quickly and ramp up capacity when needed, only paying for what they need.

The advantage of this approach is that you can expand and contract as needed. If you anticipate having a rush coming such as a big sale, you can expand your servers to meet the increased demand, then go back to your normal numbers when the sale period is over. It prevents your system from going down because you don’t have the server capacity to handle the influx of traffic. This elasticity and paying for what you use are two of the hallmarks of using IaaS.

Types of Cloud Deployment Models

Cloud implementations are normally either public or private, though hybrids of the two can be created as well.

Public/External Cloud

The public cloud is normally what people refer to when talking about cloud computing/cloud storage. This is when anybody in the general public connects (normally via web browser), opens an account with a cloud vendor, and connects to the application hosted on the Internet. The application is hosted on the Internet, off-site from the customer location.

Private Cloud

The private cloud refers to an infrastructure that is closed off to a particular organization or environment. The infrastructure could be internal or hosted externally by a cloud vendor. In the case of an internal private cloud, there is usually more up-front costs as the organization will need to purchase the hardware that will host the systems.

Normally, internal private clouds utilize virtual machines to optimize hardware usage, so there is a long-term cost savings in that model. This may be a good solution for organizations that are highly concerned about security but still want the increase productivity and collaborative benefits of cloud computing.

The type of cloud infrastructure and deployment is unique to each business. The decision is based on organization goals, security considerations, costs, expandability, flexibility, and compatibility. There are many vendors offering solid services, and some that do not; it’s up to the organization to do its due diligence and find the most effective solution to suit its needs.

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