When you read or listen to the news especially in the business world you hear a lot of buzz on the concept of cloud computing. Although most people have a general idea of cloud computing there is still a lot of confusion which surrounds the real purpose of cloud computing and some of the functions it serves.
Without realizing it you may have been using cloud computing services for some time now. If you have ever used Google documents or web-based email such as Gmail or Hotmail, then you have been using a form of cloud computing. Google documents (Google Apps) is a platform that can be accessed from anywhere and at any time, as is also the case with web-based email. This high availability of access to data and applications forms the foundation for the cloud computing concept.
If you are one of the many people that is puzzled by cloud computing you are not alone. The following information will provide you with a solid understanding of what cloud computing is and some of the functions it serves when using new technologies.
Cloud Computing Defined
The term “cloud” is refers to the Internet and when you add the term “computing” into the mix this is what can cause a lot of confusion as to what cloud computing actually means. To keep the definition simple think of it in terms of the web-based email you use or Google’s app service.
When you open your Inbox in a web-based email account you have immediate access to your folders and email messages. When you access your documents on Google you can access them from anywhere by logging in with a username and password. So, where is this data stored?
The data in cloud applications such as your web-based email or Google Docs is stored on a remote server. You access the data using your Internet connection and by entering a username and password. This type of infrastructure defines the term cloud computing where your data is stored remotely and securely and accessed using an Internet connection. This places the storage responsibilities on the cloud service provider (CSP). The CSP such as Hotmail or Google maintains the technology required to store data and enforce data security while you have the convenience of accessing it from anywhere using an Internet connection.
Cloud Computing Services for Individuals
If you have ever heard of online backup services such as Mozy, Carbonite, and others, these services are actually cloud computing services which allow you to store your files and data on a remote server. Then you access it at your convenience from any PC or device that has an Internet connection. Most of these services also allow you to share data and multimedia with your friends using the cloud platform provided by the online backup service.
When you subscribe to an online backup service you are provided with a user interface which allows you to control your data and usage options. By adjusting the settings in the user panel you can control how often backups occur, schedule incremental backups, and set encryption options for data security, to name a few features. Once you have backed up your data with the online backup service you also have access to settings which allow you to share specific folders and files with certain individuals for the purpose of sharing and collaboration.
A service such as Google Apps (Google Docs) works the same way. You simply log in with your username and password and then you can adjust the settings so only specific users have access to the documents you make available for collaboration. You can also use the Google Apps cloud platform for convenience if you do not want to share and collaborate. When you create documents using this platform you can access them from anywhere and edit them at any time. This prevents you from forgetting to bring your storage device along and provides a way for you to retrieve data in the event of a system crash on your PC.
Cloud Computing for Businesses
In the current economy, many businesses are opting to use cloud computing services due to the capability to reduce IT costs while increasing productivity and scalability. Many businesses do not have the budget to continually upgrade and expand IT infrastructures. Instead, they leave this concern to the cloud service provider (CSP) so company personnel can focus on important business initiatives.
Cloud computing for businesses provides a way to continually expand capacity without having to invest in costly infrastructure. Additionally, most CSPs that provide services to businesses are in compliance with industry standards and guidelines which further reduces costs associated with meeting these standards.
CSPs also take care of software licensing, IT procurement and maintenance, and expansion projects while the business accesses the services they need on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means you only pay for the services you use and you can add services on the fly at any time due to the flexibility and scalability that cloud infrastructures provide. This allows businesses with budgetary restraints to compete in today’s marketplace using the latest technologies via IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and SaaS (Software as a Service).
A Word about Cloud Computing Security
Since cloud computing is very new to both individuals and businesses there is much controversy which surrounds security when accessing cloud computing services. Although this is a legitimate concern and one that must be examined before choosing a cloud service provider, most quality cloud computing services have gone to great lengths to achieve compliance. Without investing the time to achieve security compliance CSPs would be unable to win the confidence and requirements of individuals and businesses.
This is not to say you do not have to do your homework ahead of time. Cloud computing initiatives involve a lot of planning on the part of businesses. Even if you are an individual, you still have to invest the time to do your research to ensure the cloud computing service is secure before you trust your files and data to the service.
Private vs. Public Cloud
Further on the topic of security there are private clouds and then there are public clouds. If you are an individual accessing an online backup service, this type of service typically operates on a public cloud where there are other users accessing the same service at any given time.
For businesses that must ensure access to data is controlled a private cloud is used for added security and data protection. This means that only specified users have access to the cloud service and the server is unavailable to public users.
Many organizations such as government agencies use a private cloud to secure access to sensitive data. This means that the cloud service providers must pass strict compliance standards in order to provide cloud services to these organizations.
The bottom line is cloud computing has grown substantially within the last few years. Individuals and businesses alike are gradually recognizing the benefits of cloud computing and the conveniences the concept has to offer. So far, it has created flexible work environments and provided individuals with new and innovative ways to access data and collaborate with friends and colleagues. Cloud computing is a trend worth following in the news since many of the benefits are yet to be realized.