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What is Cloud Computing? A Beginner's Guide

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What is Cloud Computing? A Beginner's Guide

What is Cloud Computing? [Definition]

A Cloud is simply a term that is used to describe a network of computers operating programs and applications that run on connected servers instead of a local machine. Cloud computing can be considered as a Virtual Hosting Solution. It is a set up whereby software, data storage, and processing power are provided from a decentralized, remote location. All information files and application programs are hosted on a global network of remote data centers, facilitating sharing and collaboration regardless of the user location or the access device being used. In simple terms, cloud computing is the delivery of computing resources over the internet. These resources can be servers, databases, software, networking, analytics, and/or intelligence. 

Types of Cloud Computing

There are different models of cloud computing, and a single model is not fit for all. As per business nature, several different models, types, and services have evolved. To avail your cloud services optimally, it is essential to determine your cloud computing architecture.

Deployment Types of Cloud Services

There are three different deployment types of cloud services. They are:

1. Public Cloud

Third-party cloud service providers own these. Their computing resources, such as the server and storage, are delivered over the Internet. Here all the resources such as the hardware, software, and supporting infrastructure are owned by the cloud provider. You can access these services and manage your account via the web browser. It follows a multi-tenant architecture with a pay-as-you-go pricing model. The top vendors of public clouds are AWS, MS Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

2. Private Cloud

This refers to the cloud computing resources that are exclusively used by a single business or an organization. A private cloud can be located in an organization’s on-site data center. The services and infrastructure in a cloud are maintained over a private network. It follows a single-tenant architecture with on-premise hardware with direct control of underlying cloud infrastructure. The top vendors for private clouds are HPE, VMware, Dell EMC, IBM, Red Hat, Microsoft, OpenStack.

3. Hybrid Cloud

As the name suggests, hybrid clouds combine third-party, public fog, and on-premise private clouds. Here the data and applications can be moved between public and private clouds. A hybrid cloud provides more flexibility, more deployment options, and optimizes the existing infrastructure, security, and compliance for business. It has cloud bursting capabilities with the benefits of both public and private cloud environments. 

As mentioned earlier, as per your business nature, several different deployment models, types, and services have evolved.

Service types of the Cloud

Let us review the different service types of the cloud.

1. IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service]

It is a computing and infrastructure service which is provisioned and managed over the Internet. IaaS can be scaled up and down as per requirement. It avoids the capital investment required for buying and managing physical servers and other infrastructure. The cloud computing service provider manages and the infrastructure, software, operating system’s middleware, and applications while you rent and use the required service component.

2. PaaS [Platform as a Service]

It is a complete development and deployment environment in the cloud. You can purchase resources from the cloud service provider on a pay-as-you-go basis. PaaS includes IaaS, middleware, development tools, BI services, database management systems, and more. It eliminates the hassle of buying expensive software licenses and orchestrating them. Once you are subscribed, all of it is managed by the cloud service provider.

3. SaaS [Software as a Service]

SaaS provides a complete software solution that you can purchase on a pay-as-you-go basis. It allows a user to connect to and use cloud-based applications over the internet. The leased software and hardware are managed with appropriate SLAs [Service Level Agreements] by the cloud service provider.

4. Serverless Computing

Serverless Computing enables developers to build applications faster and eliminates the need to manage the underlying infrastructure. It is so-called because the tasks associated with the infrastructure provisioning and management are carried out by the cloud service provider. This increases developers' focus on business logic and innovation, increases productivity and optimizes their resources. 

Cloud computing and its different deployment models have most successfully streamlined or eliminated a number of traditional hassles. 

  • Large Servers and Data Storage Devices: Now, it is not the only option to store and manually backup data hard drives, discs, or external devices. Business Organizations now do not need to house high capacity servers or any such equipment rooms.
  • Dedicated IT support in-house: Nowadays, it is not required to bank in-house experts for troubleshooting hardware and software systems. Web-based software is updated constantly. The vendor generally handles all the backups, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
  • Geographical Limitation: Access to software applications and information are not limited to geographical locations. Instead, they are now equally accessible from remote locations, thus enabling real-time collaboration by remote teams.
  • Software: Organizations were mandated to purchase the original and latest version of the software for their infrastructures — applications required to be manually installed, updated, and maintained for every machine. Security problems could go unaddressed until major setbacks. Cloud-based software is very conveniently customizable, and it is very easy to increase bandwidth, power, and storage as per requirements.
  • Security: There was always a risk of losing data and information in the face of emergencies or major disasters. Data stored in clouds overcome this possibility by constantly analyzing and updating infrastructure and security protocols to address new threats.
  • Performance: Cloud-based files provide shared access and are always kept up-to-date. Everyone working on the same file is ensured that they are working on the latest version and are looking at the same thing. Cloud Computing services usually run on a network of secure data centers, which are always in their latest versions the fastest and most efficient computing hardware. This surpasses the services provided by a single corporate data center with reduced latency for applications and a more excellent economy of scale.
  • Cost: Cloud Computing eliminates the need for the capital investment required for buying the required hardware and software and their set up.  Organizations have always required a team of experts in order to install, configure, maintain, update, and troubleshoot their hardware and software systems. Cloud Computing has changed this scenario by providing automatic upgrades, and scaling ups as the entire infrastructure is being maintained by them. Organizations now pay for only what they use. There is no space loss due to hardware and no extra electricity usage charges.

Nowadays, if you are using the Internet, it is highly likely that you are availing cloud computing in one way or the other. Be it sending emails, accessing multimedia, playing video games, or storing files; cloud computing is the one making it seamlessly possible. Few users of cloud computing can be listed as follows:

  • Data Storage, Backup, and Recovery: Information files previously required to be stored in local hard drives that were vulnerable to crash, power outage, system failures if not backed up properly. Now they can be stored in clouds like Google DropBox, Google Drive, etc., and can be accessed from anywhere anytime. 
  • Creating, Building, and Testing Applications: Cloud-native technologies and approaches such as containers, microservices architectures, DevOps, etc. can be used to scale, deploy, and build web, mobile, and APIs. Development costs and time can be optimized by using cloud infrastructure, which can be easily scaled up or down as per requirement.
  • Entertainment and Social Media: Music and videos which once were stored in physical devices like CD, DVD can now be accessed anytime from cloud-based streaming devices like Netflix, Amazon Video, Spotify, etc. All the data generated in Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are stored remotely in cloud solutions.
  • Data Analysis: As most of the data is now stored in the cloud, cloud services like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence can be used to gain insights from this data and make informed decisions. Intelligent data models can also be used to provide customers with valuable insights.
  • Mobile Banking: With cloud solutions, banking has never been easier. Nowadays, deposits, money transfers, payments can be done within seconds without even setting foot in the bank. Transactions and statements are stored in the bank’s database and are always accessible on demand.
  • CRM[Customer Relationship Management]: CRM software enables us to link, coordinate, and analyze every step of the customer journey through all business touchpoints. This enables personalized business communication, cart abandonment emails, manage leads, and optimize marketing strategies.
  • Accounting: Cloud-based accounting software functions similar to desktop accounting software, but as they run on remote servers, they enable integration across all departments. This gives access to updated figures and projects to all the stakeholders. Cloud-based accounting software eliminates redundancy and reduces the chance of errors. 
  • Inventory Management and Logistics: Cloud-based inventory management applications manage to order, stocking, selling, and delivering goods in a much more efficient manner. Vendors and Logistic coordinators can review the inventory levels and locate a product/package in real-time.

Despite all the technical and economic benefits provided by cloud computing, many business organizations hesitate cloud implementation into their business processes because of certain misconceptions.  Some of the most common misconceptions and their corresponding facts are stated as follows:

Misconception

Fact

The cloud provider can access all the data.

All data and information stored in the cloud are encrypted. They are encrypted when in transit and also while stored.

The cloud will reduce your control over your data and processes.

Cloud services are mostly used on a pay-as-you-go basis. This entitles you to scale your usage as per your requirements. It is also very easy to migrate data to and from cloud servers. All data and information can be downloaded whenever required.

Cloud solutions are prone to security breaches. It is risky and untested.

Security is improved once migrated to the cloud. Cloud security is a full-time endeavor for cloud vendors. Cloud vendors are always working to improve their system security. Cloud vendors employ computer science and cybersecurity experts to keep up with the latest encryption technology. Generally, most of the security breaches occur due to human errors. A two-factor authentication method is used to verify user identity in order to prevent security breaches. 

Transitioning to the cloud is an expensive and time-consuming process.

Cloud migration is very easy, quick, and cost-effective mostly because it saves money, time, and effort to buy new software, install and maintain it. Further, it also eliminates the need to employ additional IT experts for managing the entire system. The cloud can also be used for back-up purposes as well. The cloud offers flexibility and can be used in a number of combinations of public, private, and hybrid clouds.

Cloud services are complicated and unreliable.

Cloud vendors design their interface in the most user-friendly form. A little knowledge of IT terms simplifies the entire process. In addition to storing your data, it also backs-up your data at regular intervals. Cloud vendors make sure to use the latest hardware and software to function in their systems. As long as you have a working device with an internet connection, cloud data is accessible to you.

Best Practices for Leveraging Cloud Computing Services 

Your business will be only as good as the quality of the cloud service that you are leveraging. Hence, here are a few factors to consider and some best practices to be followed in order to avail the best in class cloud service for your business processes.

1. Choosing your Cloud Service Providers:

    • Consider service providers who have multiple data centers dispersed over a wide geographical area.
    • Make sure the data centers are in close proximity to the Internet Backbone connection.
    • Clarify on demand and seasonal scaling up or down requests.
    • Explore their data migration support and their technical compatibility with other systems that you may be using.  

2. Clearly negotiate your SLAs [Service Level Agreements]

    • Clearly, define all key terms and delineate all the roles and responsibilities of all the parties involved.
    • Evaluate vendor's security, privacy, and regulatory compliance standards, data classification policies and procedures.
    • In your agreement, clearly define
      • Data location
      • Data Ownership
      • Data Controls to be implemented
      • Data Protection while in transit
      • Data Protection in the Cloud
      • Authorized personnel in the vendor organization for accessing your data.
      • Authentication and Password Policies will be implemented.
      • How Account will be provisioned and de-provisioned.

3. Evaluate and Optimize your Security Protocols

    • Pre evaluate your security controls and loopholes.
    • Review the vendor’s security and data protection policies.
    • Prefer vendors having accreditations like ISO 27001, ISO 27017, DoD IL4, HIPAA, and the UK’s Cyber Essentials.
    • Discuss all potential failures, outages and security breaches, and their corresponding risk mitigation plans.

4. Work on your Data Protection Scenarios

    • Get your data classified with restricted access
    • Divide your business data into tiers as per sensitivity and different data handling protocols.
    • Ensure where your data is stored, where they are backed-up, who can access it, and how.
    • Always have a plan for data recovery and data restoration in case of a disaster.

5. Monitor your Cloud Services

    • Create alerts for unusual activity spikes and dips.
    • Look for anomalies and get it investigated without delay.
    • Make use of cloud customer service and support.

6. Consider Growth Factors over time.

    • Negotiate on the flexibility of scaling up or down as required.
    • Review your cloud architecture regularly and make sure all the systems are working together efficiently.

Along with all the advantages, cloud computing has its fair share of disadvantages as well. Security has been and always will be the biggest concern with the cloud. Although high-level encryption is in place, there is still a possibility of a breach. If the encryption key is lost, the data can be lost forever. Servers can fall victim to natural disasters, power outages, etc. A power outage in one geographical area can completely cripple an entire system in another part of the globe. However, these disadvantages should only be considered as a heads-up to what can possibly go wrong. The advantages of cloud computing outweigh its disadvantages. Just make sure you cover every aspect of your system vulnerabilities, and you will be good to go.

Conclusion

Shortly, all large and small businesses are highly likely to implement public, private, or hybrid clouds into their business processes. Multi-cloud strategies, low code, and no-code solutions will continue to make cuts on the process of in-house programming and will enable app development without the need to hire an extensive programming workforce. More and more IoTs are likely to be integrated into every sphere of life, including health care, transportation, banking, daily utility, security, aviation, weather forecasting, etc. As of now, the big players in cloud computing are Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and IBM Cloud.  Several professional certifications can be acquired in cloud computing, and the job market as of now is quite welcoming for the rightly interests talents.

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Barnali Chanda

Barnali Chanda

Barnali is a software developer, who eventually transformed into a technical documentation writer with her continuous research and development skills. She is an expert in C, C++, PHP, Python and RDBMS. She makes sure to evolve with technology. Thus, trained in BI, she is a Data Science enthusiast and is on the verge to pursue a career in Data Science. View all posts by the Author

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