What is Cloud Computing?

The Rise of Cloud Computing

While many people get confused upon hearing the term cloud computing, the fact is that some of them have actually been in the cloud in one way or another without even realizing it. How many people have been sharing such types of data as documents, photos and even email online? All these are actually part of cloud computing on a personal level.

The concept has really nothing to do with going to the cloud. It simply means that data is stored in such a way that it is readily accessible and transferrable from one place and/or device to another. People are not limited to particular physical locations or devices in accessing and using different types of data. The Internet is the “cloud” referred to here.

Why Use Cloud Computing?

People have different reasons for using cloud computing, with the most common ones being:

  • Having the ability to access relevant data from anywhere so long as there is an Internet connection.
  • Outsourcing the responsibility associated with maintaining applications and servers.
  • Having predictable and regular operational IT expenditure instead of incurring occasional heavy expenditures.
  • Scaling systems either down or up depending on current needs.

Cloud computing also helps to address under-utilization challenges where many servers are run at a small fraction of their capacities, leading to power and monetary losses.

Common Terms

Different terms are often used in cloud computing. Here are the most common ones to help demystify the concept.

  • Virtualization: This is where special software is used to separate 1 physical server into different parts that operate like independent servers. Different users are allocated these virtual servers for their own uses, where they can store their data in the cloud.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): These are basically services available via web browsers. Google Docs is a good example of SaaS.
    Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): This is where companies provide other businesses with virtual servers using the pay-as-you-go system. An example of IaaS is Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) from Amazon.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): This is where providers of cloud computing offer such low-level services as web servers, computer language interpreters and operating systems to allow developers to build applications. Examples of PaaS include Google App Engine and Microsoft Windows Azure.
  • Rich Internet Application: RIA takes advantage of the rich graphics, fast script engines and plug-ins in modern browsers to run particular applications just as if they were installed in a local computer.

Cloud Computing and Business

While people have been using cloud computing for some time, what is relatively new is applying it for business purposes where it creates a more collaborative environment.

Many large businesses are already conducting their operations in the cloud, including Starbucks, Pathwork Diagnostics, Infosys, Best Buy, Digitaria, Virgin America and Wang Fu Jing Department Store.

Challenges

Cloud computing also comes with its own challenges, including:
• Regulatory conflicts by storing data internationally.
• Security concerns.
• Possible loss of service because of problems on the part of the provider.
However, these issues can be addressed in various ways, including using high-level encryption technology, carrying out backups and building in redundancy.

 
Further reading:
1. IBM Smart Cloud. Cloud Computing. Extracted on October 12, 2011 from http://www.ibm.com/cloud-computing/us/en/
2. InformationWeek. Real-World Cloud Computing Applications. Extracted on October 12, 2011 from http://www.informationweek.com/blog/229205982

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