What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services – servers, storage, databases, networking, software and moreover the Internet (“the cloud”). Companies offering these computing services are called cloud providers and typically charge for cloud computing services based on usage, similar to how people are billed for utilities at home. Cloud computing is sometimes referred to as ‘hosted’, because cloud providers rather than the business are physically hosting the IT infrastructure.
What is cloud computing used for?
You may well be using cloud computing right now, even if you don’t realise it. If you use an online service to send emails, edit documents, watch films or TV, listen to music, play games, or store pictures and other files, cloud computing will be making it all possible. Cloud computing services are barely a decade old, but already a variety of organisations – from start-ups to global corporations, from government agencies to non-profits – are embracing the technology for all sorts of reasons. These are some of the things you can do with the cloud:
- Create new apps and services
- Store, back up and recover data
- Host websites and blogs
- Stream audio and video
- Deliver software applications
What are cloud services?
Most cloud services fall into three broad categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). Knowing what they are and how they’re different makes it easier to decide on the best solution for your business.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
This is the most basic category of cloud computing services. With IaaS, you rent IT infrastructure – servers, storage, networks, operating systems – from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis. We use hosting specialist Egenera for this when customers need their own dedicated servers to be hosted (called private cloud). When customers are happy that their applications sit on shared servers (securely, of course), then we use Microsoft Azure (known as public cloud).
Platform as a service (PaaS)
Platform as a service (PaaS) refers to cloud computing services that supply an on-demand environment for developing, testing, delivering and managing software applications. PaaS is designed to make it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps, without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network and databases needed for development. Microsoft Dynamics 365 works in this way, allowing us to rapidly create tailored applications for our clients. We also use Egenera in this was to provide our cloud backup and business continuity packages.
Software as a service (SaaS)
Software as a service (SaaS) is a method for delivering software applications over the Internet, on demand and typically on a subscription basis. With SaaS, cloud providers host and manage the software application and underlying infrastructure, and handle any maintenance, such as software upgrades and security patching. Users connect to the application over the Internet, usually with a web browser on their phone, tablet or PC. We use Microsoft Office 365 to provide email, document management and collaboration services in this way.
What are the benefits of cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a big shift from the traditional way businesses think about IT resources. Here are the common reasons why organisations are turning to cloud computing services:
Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware and software, and setting up and running on-site data centres – the racks of servers, the round-the-clock electricity for power and cooling, the IT experts for managing the infrastructure.
Most cloud computing services are provided as self service and on demand, so even vast amounts of computing resources can be provisioned in minutes. This gives businesses a lot of flexibility and taking the pressure off capacity planning.
The benefits of cloud computing services include the ability to scale elastically. That means delivering the right amount of IT resources – for example, more or less computing power, storage, bandwidth – exactly when it’s needed.
On-site servers typically require a lot of pro-active management. This can include patching, hardware monitoring and capacity planning. Cloud computing removes the need for many of these tasks, so more time can be spent on achieving more important business goals.
The biggest cloud computing services run on a worldwide network of secure data centres, which are regularly upgraded to the latest generation of fast and efficient computing hardware. These data centres offer a level of physical and cyber security out of the reach of most small and medium sized organisations.
Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity easier and less expensive, because data can be mirrored at multiple redundant sites on the cloud provider’s network. In addition, users can access their applications securely from anywhere that has an internet connection.
Cloud & Hosted FAQs
Are there any disadvantages of cloud computing?
A move towards the cloud does rely on a reliable, fast internet connection. So businesses moving to the cloud should be aware that they may need to invest in upgrading their connection – perhaps with multiple lines so that if one goes down, everyone can continue to work.