What is Cloud Computing?

cloud blueHere’s your crash course on cloud computing basics

Oftentimes we delve into many of the nuances of cloud computing we believe you should know to make an informed decision. However, without a base understanding of what cloud computing actually is – and why it’s so important – all that nuance is white noise.

Today, we’re going back to cloud computing basics – from the elevator pitch description and the difference between public and private cloud to how you can begin building a cloud business case.

If I had 10 seconds to define cloud computing for someone, what should I say?

It’s the delivery of on-demand computing services – applications, storage, and processing power – over the internet on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Why is it even called cloud computing? Surely it’s not literally in the clouds I see outside my office window…

Blame your legacy telecommunications companies, who used clouds to show that the underlying technologies for public telephone networks were irrelevant. Similar concepts for cloud computing applies: The location of the service – and many of the details that go along with it like hardware and operating systems – are essentially irrelevant to users.

How does cloud computing actually work?

Instead of owning your computing infrastructure or data centers, you rent access from a cloud service provider. You can avoid an upfront cost and the complexity of owning and maintaining your IT infrastructure. The downside, however, is that many cloud computing providers deliver the same services to many customers.

What can I move to the cloud?

Virtually anything: storage, networking, processing power, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, standard office applications, and more. Any service that doesn’t require you to be physically close to computer hardware you’re using can be delivered through the cloud.

Is cloud computing really that new of a concept?

The term cloud computing has been around since the early 2000s, but the concept of computing-as-a-service has been around since the 1960s, when companies could rent time on a mainframe from computer bureaus rather than buying a machine that, at the time, was extremely expensive and took up entire rooms in an office. That went away when personal computers made their rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as owning a computer became much more affordable and data centers came to the fore, allowing enterprises to store large amounts of data.

Is the cloud just a passing phase – like floppy disks – or is it truly here to stay?

Follow the money. IDC research recently found building the infrastructure to support cloud computing accounts for more than a third of all IT spending globally. 451 Research predicts one-third of enterprises will spend their IT budgets on hosting and cloud services in 2018, and industry experts peg global spending on cloud services at $260 billion in 2017. Most analysts predict that by 2021 that half of global organizations will go “all-in” on cloud computing. That’s a lot of money to spend on a fly-by-night trend.

What are all these “as a service” offerings and where do they fit in the overall cloud computing model?

piece of cake

Think of cloud computing as a three-tiered cake.

The base layer is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): the foundational component of cloud computing that you can rent – including physical or virtual servers, storage, and networking. This is great for companies that want to build apps from the ground-up and control virtually all the elements themselves. It does, however, require you to have employees with the technical skills to operate these services.

The middle layer is Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): This includes the tools and software developers can use to build applications that would sit on top of IaaS – such as middleware, database management, operating systems, and development tools.

The layer that rises to the top is the one you probably heard about most – Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): the delivery of applications as a service to end users who probably can’t write a line of code. Think of customer relationship management apps such as Salesforce or enterprise office suites like Office 365. This will remain the dominant cloud computing model, accounting for two-thirds of all public cloud spending today and only dropping to 60 percent of all public cloud spending in 2021.

What can I gain from cloud computing?

It depends on if you go with private, public, or hybrid cloud (more on that shortly), but in short you can gain:

  • Peace of mind: You don’t have to worry about buying the right servers; updating applications or operating systems; and decommissioning and disposing of hardware or software when it’s out of date.
  • Speed: You can move faster on projects and test out concepts without long procurement cycles and expensive capital expenditures up front. You only pay for resources you use. If a new app works and more people want to use it, you can scale up quickly. If it doesn’t work, you can get rid of it fast and move on to the next project without wasting money on physical servers.
  • Price: Cloud computing usually shifts spend from capital expenditures to operating expenditures, which means your company can avoid large increases in upfront IT spending you would have traditionally had with new projects.

What’s the downside?

  • Price: A common myth is that cloud is always cheaper than buying your own hardware. It’s not true – while you may shift money in a way that’ll make your CFO smile, the reality is that in the long term if you have applications with regular, predictable requirements for computing services you could save money by hosting that service in-house. There’s no blanket answer – it all depends on your specific business needs.
  • Security: Companies are reluctant to host sensitive data in a service that could be used by rivals, especially if you go with public cloud over a private cloud. You’re also on the hook for any loss of data, even though you’re not physically hosting the data within your own walls. The good news is that companies like US Cloud can help you securely navigate a path to the cloud when you’re ready to do so.
  • Complexity: It’s not as simple as flicking a switch and moving your data and applications from on-premises to the cloud. Enterprises that have started adopting cloud computing estimate upfront migration costs will outweigh the long-term savings created by cloud computing. Forrester Research found in a recent survey that rewriting applications to make them work in a cloud environment was the greatest cost, followed closely by finding skilled people to perform the migration. You need to work with an experienced cloud vendor like US Cloud who can ease your move to the cloud.

What’s the difference between private, public, and hybrid cloud?

Public cloud is the classic cloud computing model, where you can access a vast pool of compute power over the internet. This is great for scalability, because public cloud computing suppliers rent the compute power amongst numerous customers. Therein lies the potential downside: You’re sharing this power with a large number of other enterprises in a multi-tenant infrastructure, which could lead to security issues. Visit our website to learn more about the benefits and challenges you will encounter when considering public cloud environments.

Private cloud seeks to give you the best of both worlds – all the scale and compute power you need without having to give up control over your data and services. Private cloud allows you to control where your data is held – and the environment is all yours, not shared by other companies. That additional security could come at a greater cost, but again, the final cost really depends on how much cloud compute power you need and how you use it. Public isn’t always the cheapest option.

Hybrid cloud allows you to dip your toe in the cloud computing pool without jumping in entirely. You can put some data in a public cloud, other projects in a private cloud, and keep your flexibility in disaster recovery planning and avoiding hardware costs when expanding your data center.

We’ve worked with enterprises who have gone public, private, or in a hybrid model – we can support all these use cases. The important point to take away here is that the cloud option you pick depends on your unique business requirements.

Who are the major cloud vendor players?

According to Synergy Research Group, Amazon is far and away the leader in market share, with Microsoft, IBM and Google following behind. Then there’s numerous vendors fighting for the remaining pieces of the pie.

What’s important to realize, though, is that some providers have stronger competencies than others. Amazon is strong in IaaS and PaaS, while Microsoft is extremely strong in SaaS. Many companies look to different vendors for their different needs. Our website outlines for you the pros and cons of many of these cloud players so you can make an informed decision.

Where do I go from here?

As with any other IT purchase, you’ll need to build a business case that includes understanding what your existing infrastructure actually costs – running your data centers, leasing lines, physical hardware, compute power, storage, etc. You’ll also need to take a look at how much you’ll need to spend on your existing applications – eliminating them, re-hosting them in the cloud, completely rebuilding them or buying new applications hosted in the cloud. People costs and vendor lock-in should also be considerations.

It’s a lot to take in, but US Cloud is here to help you every step of the way. From performing an initial assessment through to hosting, building, migrating, and securing your cloud environment, we have the people, skills and technology to help you focus on your business instead of the ins and outs of how the cloud actually works.

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