De-Mystifying Series: What is the Cloud?

October 3, 2017 Rachel Illingworth

Word on the street (actually, the internet) is that the cloud is shorthand for “cloud computing.” But in actuality, the cloud is used as a buzzword with several meanings. Are you confused? Don’t worry, stick around, and all your questions will be answered.  

You may have noticed that the words “cloud” and “cloud computing” are popping up more often in everyday lexicon. You might even know that a lot of today’s most successful companies are moving to 100 percent cloud-based operations. But before we dig too deep, let’s review the basics.

What is cloud computing?

There are two types of computing — local storage and computing, and cloud computing. If you store data or run programs on your computer’s hard drive, then you’re doing the first kind of computing. If you’re using the internet to access information, use software, store data, or utilize applications, congratulations, you’re in the cloud! Essentially, the cloud isn’t a physical thing, it’s simply a metaphor for the internet.

For example, take a look at Adobe. They removed all of their software services (like Photoshop and Illustrator) from stores. Instead, you can order Photoshop online for a low monthly fee. Adobe holds all their services in the cloud for customers to use at their discretion.

Where did the cloud come from?

The origins of the cloud trace back to the 1950s, when computers were the size of a large room and very expensive. As such, it was a ridiculous notion to provide a computer to every employee. In response, business leaders came up with a time-sharing type of method for giving a number of people access to one computer’s data and CPU time — cloud computing at its core.

In 1969, J.C.R. Licklider created Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), aka, the first version of the internet. Within ARPANET, Licklider provided many people with the accessibility to several files of data and programs. ARPANET attracted plenty of traffic, but couldn’t sustain the bandwidth needed — the bandwidth wasn’t developed until the ‘90s.

The terminology behind the “cloud” harkens back to a couple decades ago, when people tried to map out the infrastructure of the internet. The mapped internet representation looked like a big, puffy cloud of different, varying connections. So in 1997, Professor Ramnath Chellappa coined the term “cloud computing”. Finally, Salesforce was the first company to offer cloud services in 1999.

How does the cloud work?

When you type a search query into the Google search bar — and wait less than a second for an answer — you might think your computer is doing a lot of work for you. But in reality, when you hit the search button, your computer offloaded the work to one of thousands of Google’s computers, or clustered PCs. This network of computers (located anywhere in the world, from Dublin to Beijing) will find the information you seek, and send it back to your computer. Through this intricate, worldwide communication system, the only thing your personal computer has done is run the cloud’s interface software — in this case, your web browser.

How big is the cloud?

Because it is so nebulous, no one knows exactly how big the cloud is. Even companies who represent the cloud (like Amazon and Google) can only take guesses at how much data the cloud can hold. Some say the cloud can be as large as one exabyte — or the equivalent of 4.2 million Macbook Pro hard drives.

What makes the business cloud different?

You can interact with the cloud on an individual and/or personal basis. But companies are utilizing the cloud in new ways, to collaborate and improve the way they do work. The public cloud provides on-demand capabilities without the hassle or expense of purchasing more hardware, software, or equipment. Instead, businesses pay subscription fees for the resources they use.

Cloud computing is big business, and slated to continue to grow. In fact, cloud industry profit is expected to grow six times faster than the traditional IT industry over the next five years. And according to KPMG industry experts, the number of businesses utilizing the cloud will increase from this year’s 32 percent to 56 percent by 2020.

What types of cloud services are there?

There’s several different kinds of services that can be provided by the cloud, let’s discuss the three most important — SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. Many businesses today utilize at least one Software-as-a-Service (or SaaS). Simply put, a company uses SaaS when it subscribes to a service or application over the internet. Salesforce is the perfect example of a company that provides SaaS options to businesses globally.

PaaS, or Platform-as-a-Service gives businesses the opportunity to create their own custom applications for internal use. And Infrastructure-as-a-Service, or IaaS, allows the heavy hitters, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, to provide a framework of applications, which can then be rented out by businesses. (A well-known IaaS user is Netflix — it can provide streaming services to its users because it purchases cloud services from Amazon.)

What’s the future hold?

The next decade of cloud computing promises to breach new collaborative horizons between people who might be geographically distant from each other. Fortunately, more businesses are choosing to run cloud applications, making it easier for them to manage customer relationships, improve worker experiences, grow profits, and do so much more. If you’re interested in learning how your business can better utilize cloud computing, contact any one of our cloud experts for a free Diagnostic Workshop.

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