Cloud computing is a subscription-based delivery model that provides scalability, fast delivery and greater IT efficiencies. It has removed many physical and financial barriers to aligning IT needs with evolving business goals. With a promise to deliver better applications, platforms and infrastructure quickly and cheaply, cloud computing has become a major force for business innovation across all industries.
History & Evolution of Cloud Computing
The term "cloud computing" came into widespread use in the mid-2000s, but its heritage can be traced to a number of computing business models beginning in the 1960s that enabled customers to purchase computing time on large mainframe computers rather than buying the hardware and software themselves.
In the 1970s, the major hardware and software vendors began using virtual machines as a way of providing independent, multiple platforms and operating systems on a host server. This improvement on the shared mainframe approach enabled a communication and data revolution by enabling multiple computing environments on a single physical system.
Telecommunications companies realized that they could provide the new private network connections far cheaper but with the same quality of service as their old point-to-point data offerings. By the 1990s, telecommunications companies were creating virtual private network (VPN) services on surplus network bandwidth, allowing companies to host their own software and data centers. The term "cloud" came into common use during this period because communication network diagrams represent the handoff between the service provider and the user with a cloud icon.
Building on that early cloud foundation was a series of intermediate, but crucial, steps that integrated emerging technologies and business approaches that have become cloud computing as we use it today. Some of those enabling advances include:
A system comprised of a centralized (hub) computer that is connected to less powerful computers or workstations (clients). The clients can access data, content and programs via the hub. As a security model, it ensures policy compliance.
A network, or grid, of connected computing devices that share resources to create a supercomputer enabling large tasks, such as analysis of big data sets, to be divided among the networked computers and processed in parallel to reduce computation time.
Enables two computer systems to communicate directly with their counterpart (peer) without having to connect to a central server. Peer environments, in contrast to client/server approaches, share resources and are consumers and suppliers.
Introduced the pay-as-you-use concept of computing services. Users pay for the services they use rather than a flat access rate. Computing resources are provided as users need them, making this approach more cost effective and efficient.
The rise of the internet and the World Wide Web and their ability to connect huge numbers of computers was the catalyst that enabled these cloud-based technologies to be fully integrated to create modern cloud computing.
Cloud Computing in Today’s World
Cloud computing’s ability to provide elastic scalability, faster service delivery, greater IT efficiency and a subscription-based accounting model has broken down many of the physical and financial barriers to aligning IT with evolving business goals. With the promise to deliver better business models and services quickly and cheaply, cloud computing has become a major driver of business innovation across all industries.
Today, cloud computing has moved to the center of many organizations’ technology strategies. Cloud computing’s technological advantages – the ability to scale computing resources up and down, more reliable network connections and the ubiquity of big data – makes it appealing to organizations of all sizes.
And the cloud provides not only delivery of software services, but data storage as well. The growth and flexibility offered by cloud infrastructure has enabled organizations to explore the full potential of data assets in a fast and cost-effective manner. Cloud platforms are now an integral part of many organizations’ data strategies.
However, the shift to cloud has not been without problems. Migration of critical business data from on-site, secured data centers to storage on public cloud platforms has raised concerns over data security. This has been the case specifically around personal, customer data storage.
Who's using cloud computing?
Organizations in all business sectors and of all sizes are moving their data, digital assets and day-to-day activities to the cloud to improve operations, customer experiences and increase productivity. Below are some of the ways industries are incorporating cloud technologies:
By refactoring their workloads [for the cloud], including taking advantage of cheap storage, smart scaling and distributed in-memory capabilities, they improved data transfer speeds and analytics performance tenfold, with a substantial reduction in operating cost.
How Cloud Computing Works & Key Technologies
Cloud computing encompasses business applications, and data storage, networking and processing capabilities, too. It enables organizations of all sizes to take advantage of powerful analytical technologies such as natural language processing and artificial intelligence. If computing services are available in the marketplace, they’re almost certainly available via the cloud.
For users, moving critical business activities to the cloud leads to greater productivity. Placing your data stores and software services on the cloud means they are no longer stored on individual servers or computers and are then available through a web-based interface. This allows users to access services from wherever they are via a web connection to a cloud platform using almost any device. The cloud makes collaboration easy and nearly effortless.
Cloud computing won't change the way your organization needs software services to be delivered, but how the IT departments support their organizations. With cloud computing, you can reap a number of benefits:
- Infrastructure. Reduce hardware spending by sharing infrastructure and other resources on the cloud, saving procurement cycles and money.
- Scalability. Improve processing or store more data on the cloud with the ability to expand or reduce computing resources as needed.
- Automation. Reduce the need for additional personnel to manage software updates or version compatibility with different operational systems and databases.
- Mobility. Access information from the cloud wherever and whenever via web browsers to improve productivity of an increasingly mobile workforce.
- Collaboration. Share documents, data and computing solutions in the cloud to reduce governance issues related to platform accessibility.
- Subscription. Transitioning to ongoing subscription licensing reduces the upfront expense to cloud computing and provides an opportunity to use operational budgets rather than capital expenditures.
Cloud Computing Standard Deployment Models
A cloud provider maintains the hardware and computing infrastructure that organizations can lease, typically for a monthly fee. You can choose your options that can include a fixed offering or a mix of storage, software and platform options.
Public clouds offer these benefits:
• No software to install or maintain.
• No hardware to buy or maintain.
• Users can manage and collaborate with others.
• Users can upload their own data.
As you can imagine, using a public cloud lowers your capital expenditures for servers and hardware, which is a big advantage in an era where technology can become obsolete virtually overnight. But a big disadvantage is that public clouds are generally (but not always) seen as less secure than the second type of cloud computing environment: the private cloud.
Consider building a private cloud if data security is paramount. If your industry is heavily regulated or if data breaches open the door to reputational ruin, then you may want to consider creating a private cloud. Private clouds can be created in your own data center or you can pay for server space within in a highly secured third-party data center.
You can see the obvious drawback is the cost of setting up the cloud computing infrastructure. The up-front expenses of hardware, real estate and staffing can be significant. Then there is the ongoing maintenance and overhead to consider. Even if you opt to contract a private cloud provider, cost can be significantly higher. But if you’re an enterprise-level company where security and privacy are critical, then it's an option you will want to explore.
If you need the best of both worlds – lower cost of entry and greater security – then you want to consider a hybrid cloud option. As you have probably guessed, hybrid cloud computing is a mix of public and private cloud offerings. You can lock down your sensitive data on private cloud servers and use public cloud service providers for running applications and analytics.
If you run into a situation where you have multiple private providers, multiple public providers or multiples of both options, then managing those waypoints is far easier in the cloud. For most organizations, this is the best option.
Cloud Computing Standard Service Models
Now you need to decide how you want those services delivered. As with the cloud hosting options, there are three service delivery options to consider – software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Think of SaaS as the off-the-shelf option for getting into cloud computing. It's usually a standard set of offerings that are available for immediate implementation on a pay-as-you-go basis. This allows you to take advantage of new technologies quickly. You may already be using SaaS in your personal life without really thinking about it. If you use a web-based email or calendar service, then you are using a form of SaaS.
In addition to offering a pay-as-you-go deployment approach, SaaS means you also only pay for what you need, enabling you to scale software services and data storage as they are needed. If one of your organizational imperatives is to have a more mobile workforce, SaaS can be the answer. Service providers take care of enabling the cloud-based software to run on most types of computers and mobile devices and manage access and security.
Click on the infographic to learn more.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS provides the ability to create and manage custom cloud applications. It enables users to deploy their created or acquired applications using programming languages, frameworks and tools that are provided by the cloud host. The user doesn't manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure (networks, servers, operating systems and storage), but does have control over deployed applications and possibly the application-hosting configurations.
Using PaaS is ideal when you have lots of developers working on the same project, or if you're using several vendors. In many ways it helps simplify the creation and rapid deployment of apps.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
But what if you just want to let someone else manage all that? Then you need IaaS. It is considered the most basic “as-a-service” level where infrastructure equipment and resources are provided to clients. These can include storage, networks, processing and other general computing resources. The IaaS user can run software from the cloud; access operating systems, applications and frameworks; and perform the general administrative functions; but does not manage or control the underlying infrastructure.
IaaS provides cloud infrastructure that is typically accessed by IT and operations. IaaS delivers cloud infrastructure support for SaaS and PaaS. PaaS can provide development and support for SaaS, but it is not required because SaaS can be delivered on top of IaaS.
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