What is Cloud Computing?
One sure marker of outdated technology is size. Now that computers weigh mere ounces and fit in our palms, people marvel that much less capable computers used to be the size of entire rooms. One of the reasons small computers are possible is because of cloud computing.
Most of the time, we only interact with our lightweight laptops or mobile devices, but the infrastructure that supports them and delivers so much computing power is massive enough to fill warehouses the size of 150 football fields. Instead of being powered by huge servers in the same room, modern computers are powered by huge servers that are hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Cloud Computing Definition
Cloud computing is the process of using remote data center servers hosted on the internet to store, process, and deliver data through a computer network.
How Cloud Computing Works
Cloud computing allows the resources that support your computer to be stored separately from your physical device — often thousands of miles away. Through cloud computing, service providers can deliver on-demand IT resources as needed. It eliminates the need to store and manage data on your hardware.
The term “cloud” can be misleading, particularly in the context of wireless technology. Data isn’t stored in some nebulous location accessed by electromagnetic waves. Although your data travels short distances through radio or optical waves, it’s stored and processed in physical servers. These servers are located in warehouses that can be millions of square feet in size. Organizations are understandably secretive about their data centers, but the largest — The Inner Mongolia Information Park — is over 10 million square feet.
Words like “cloud” and “wireless” make it seem like internet traffic travels primarily through the air. In actuality, the path data takes from your device to remote servers — and vice versa — is mostly through large cables that contain thousands of glass fibers the size of a human hair and run under the sea. Data only travels wirelessly from your phone or computer to the nearest cell tower or antennae that’s physically wired to this vast connection of cables.
The massive collection of nodes, cables, and data centers lets you tap into resources that would be prohibitively expensive for most individuals or businesses to build and maintain on their own.
Cloud computing providers allow you to use their resources by remotely accessing servers — which are basically giant hard drives — that contain the software, platforms, or infrastructure you want to use.
Cloud Computing Services
There are different levels of cloud computing services based on the different parts of the cloud computing stack you need to access.
Software-as-a-service is a familiar and convenient model of accessing software. With SaaS, you don’t have to install a program on your computer. You use your internet connection to log into your account through an app or website and use the software from there. You can use SaaS from any device that has an internet connection.
SaaS is usually an end-user application. It’s a finished product managed and maintained by the service provider. The SaaS model is widely used for everything from email to accounting to photo processing.
Platform-as-a-service is a step removed from SaaS. With PaaS, you can develop, deploy, and maintain your own application, but you don’t have to worry about the hardware and operating systems needed to support it.
PaaS isn’t designed for end-users. It’s a development environment that lets you deliver software applications to your users — often through a SaaS model. It gives you the ability to create applications but eliminates the need for you to buy and maintain your own servers, storage, and networking equipment. PaaS also often includes middleware services such as development tools, database management, and business intelligence tools.
Infrastructure-as-a-service is the most DIY type of cloud computing. You can access the hardware and data center resources, but it’s up to you to configure and manage the servers. You control the virtual machines to develop the platforms and software you require. With IaaS, you don’t need to buy or maintain your data servers, and you only pay for the resources you use. IaaS is ideal for companies that have their own IT and development teams but don’t want to deal with the hassle and expense of buying, storing, and maintaining their own infrastructure.
Types of Cloud Computing
When you’re setting up cloud services, you can choose from one of three different models: public, private, or hybrid. The primary differences are the location and level of security.
Public clouds are owned and maintained by third-party providers and are available over the public internet. These are located in large data centers and are usually partitioned into virtual machines so that multiple organizations can use them, with each having access to the resources they need. Each virtual machine runs its own operating system and functions separately from the other virtual machines, though they may physically share a server.
A private cloud is a cloud computing environment that’s dedicated to the sole use of a single customer. A private cloud is similar to having your own IT infrastructure on-site. With a private cloud, you aren’t sharing a server with anyone else. The hardware, software, and other resources are reserved for your exclusive use.
Private clouds are usually used by organizations that need a high level of security to protect sensitive data or comply with data protection regulations.
A hybrid cloud combines elements of both private and public clouds. A business has access to both and can choose whether to use the private or public cloud for different applications. Typically, organizations use the private cloud for highly sensitive data and the public cloud for applications that don’t require the highest security protocols. According to Gartner, 81% of organizations use a hybrid, or multi-cloud, strategy for managing IT resources.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
Businesses have almost universally adopted cloud computing due to its numerous benefits. Gartner predicts that by 2026, 75% of organizations will use the cloud as their fundamental underlying platform. The advantages of cloud computing make it attractive to companies that want to focus on their core business operations rather than on network infrastructure management.
Buying, building, and maintaining on-site IT infrastructure is a huge expense that’s out of reach for all but the largest of organizations. Cloud computing allows you to only pay for the resources you use and to quickly scale up or down as needed.
If your website has a large, unexpected spike in traffic, cloud resources can quickly be diverted to handle it. Once the spike flattens, you can go back to your baseline level of use.
When you subscribe to cloud-based services, you don’t need to pay your IT staff to maintain servers in addition to their other responsibilities, and you don’t have to upgrade with every technological advancement. You also don’t have to pay energy bills associated with keeping power-hungry servers online.
Managing your own infrastructure means you may be stuck paying for and maintaining servers you don’t need. Or you may have to scramble to add new servers if you experience a growth spurt. With cloud computing, you don’t have to worry about scalability. If you need more resources, you can easily access them. If you need fewer resources, you can scale down and cut your expenses. This scalability provides business continuity even during unexpected events such as disaster recovery.
Flexibility And Mobility
Before cloud software applications were readily available, you had to install programs directly to a specific device. If the software was updated, your computer was damaged, or you lost the disks, you’d have to buy the program again.
Cloud computing eliminates this expense and frustration. Because the software, platform, or infrastructure isn’t physically maintained on your devices or premises, you can access it from anywhere, even on a mobile device.
You also have more flexibility with cloud computing. You can develop and deploy new applications without worrying about securing the infrastructure to host them. You can also retire outdated applications without being stuck with unused resources.
Security And Data Backup
Malicious actors are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target confidential data. With the cost of a data breach reaching $9.48 million in the U.S. in 2023, you can’t afford to be lax about your cybersecurity.
The same factors that make the cloud efficient also make it more secure. Cloud security starts with the physical premises of data centers, which are located in well-protected locations staffed with security professionals.
They’re also maintained by IT professionals who understand and implement the latest cybersecurity protocols, including identity and access management (IAM), data loss prevention services, security information and event management (SIEM), and business continuity and disaster recovery solutions.
If your computer is compromised, you don’t have to worry about losing your data if it’s backed up in the cloud. Even if the cloud servers are compromised, most providers have redundant systems in place so your data is backed up and protected.
Collaboration And Productivity
Cloud collaboration lets users work together on files that are stored in the cloud. Everyone has access to the files from any location, so people can work asynchronously, boosting productivity. Remote and hybrid work are now standard perks in many fields. Employees can work faster and more efficiently using cloud resources than by emailing files back and forth. Updates and changes are applied and saved immediately, which saves time and reduces redundant work.
Use Cases of Cloud Computing
The use cases of cloud computing are almost limitless. Everyone, from individuals to large enterprises, can benefit from cloud services.
Business And Enterprise Applications
Given the advantages of cloud computing, it’s no surprise that it’s growing exponentially. The cloud computing market share is currently $678 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow to $2.43 trillion by 2030.
Businesses and enterprises commonly use cloud computing in the following ways:
- Centralized data storage: According to the Big Four accounting firm Deloitte, data frequently drives the value and growth of businesses. It’s so valuable it’s considered part of a company’s assets and often included in the valuation of a business. Businesses of all sizes use cloud computing to keep their data securely stored and protected from hackers and other types of data loss.
- Data streaming: Binge-watching the latest hits isn’t the only use for data streaming. Organizations use real-time information about their customers, products, or services to drive better decision-making. Since continuous data streaming consumes a lot of resources, cloud computing is an ideal solution.
- Cybersecurity: Besides providing a secure environment, cloud services offer anti-virus solutions to business and enterprise customers. Cloud solutions let you implement Zero Trust principles and other security protocols without a cybersecurity department.
Cloud For Developers
Cloud services empower developers to create and iterate software applications rapidly. “Fail fast” is a common adage among software developers. Building on cloud services gives developers the speed and flexibility to rapidly create and iterate applications and features. Without having to invest time and resources into managing infrastructure, they can focus on their core development operations. With software, accelerating time to market can be the difference between the latest successful launch and a second-place flop.
Personal Use and Storage
Many personal apps are available through the SaaS model for individuals. From banking apps to music lessons, cloud-based apps are how most people interact with software. Smartphone pics, spreadsheets, and documents are all stored in the cloud, which makes changing devices a non-event. Gone are the days when your computer crashing meant all your irreplaceable photos were lost forever.
Cloud in Education
When the pandemic hit and schools closed, educators scrambled for effective learning solutions. Cloud computing proved to be effective. Teachers could upload their lessons and resources to the cloud, and students could access it from computers or mobile devices.
Cloud-based resources let students and teachers collaborate on projects in real-time or asynchronously. They also provide access to learning environments that students might not be able to experience otherwise through activities such as virtual field trips. Simulation-based experiential learning gives students hands-on opportunities to perform skills in real-world-like situations that would be impossible in reality.
Choose the Right Cloud Solution
If you’re ready to move to cloud computing, choosing the right solution will make the transition faster and easier. Before you jump into a contract, take the time to analyze your needs and find the right provider and products.
Technical Factors To Consider
You want to be sure your cloud service provider has the technical resources in place to meet your needs, so consider the following factors:
- Type of cloud model: Decide between public, private, or hybrid cloud solutions. Public clouds offer scalability but might lack customization options. Private clouds offer more control but can be costly. Hybrid clouds offer a balance of both.
- Reliability and uptime: Ask about the service-level agreements for assurances regarding uptime and data availability. A reliable cloud service will guarantee at least 99.9% uptime.
- Data center locations: The geographic location of the cloud provider’s data centers can affect latency and data sovereignty laws. You may want to opt for a cloud provider with data centers near your primary customer base or operational sites.
- Migration and integration capabilities: Consider how easily you can migrate your existing systems and data to the cloud. You should also look for seamless integration capabilities with your current tools and software if you aren’t planning to change them.
- Security and compliance: Assess the security features of the cloud solution. Look for services that provide end-to-end encryption and multi-factor authentication and that make it easy for you to comply with regulations like GDPR or HIPAA, such as Consensus Cloud Faxing. This is especially critical when dealing with sensitive information that’s subject to data protection regulations.
Business Factors To Consider
In addition to technical expertise, you want a provider that fits with your business goals and values, so consider the following:
- Business objectives Understand your business goals before you choose a cloud solution. Whether you want to reduce operational costs, improve data accessibility, or scale your business, your objectives should guide your choice.
- User experience: Employees can develop change fatigue when dealing with too many new systems and processes. A user-friendly interface and a short learning curve can make the switch more palatable for everyone.
- Redundancy and backup: One reason to migrate to the cloud is for data protection. Your provider should provide backup and redundancy features to safeguard against data loss or downtime.
- Scalability: Check whether the cloud solution can adapt to your growing needs. Look for options to add resources or functionalities without undergoing a total system overhaul.
- Cost and budget constraints: Analyze the pricing models of different providers. Cloud solutions often have a pay-as-you-go model, but there may be hidden costs like data transfer fees, so make sure you understand the complete pricing structure.
- Technical support and customer service: : Just as you prioritize being there for your customers, you want a cloud solution that will be there for you. Evaluate the quality and availability of customer service to resolve issues quickly
Embrace the Future of Cloud Computing
Consensus Cloud Solutions has a 25-year history of successfully providing advanced data transfer solutions for tightly regulated industries, including finance, law, and healthcare. Combining our solutions with the systems you currently use is easy and can significantly shorten your workflow. Reach out today to find out how you can harness the power of cloud computing with Consensus.