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The Cloud. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days – so much so that its definition seems to have been diluted over the years. What is the cloud, exactly? Why does it matter if we know about it? And what does it mean for us?
Don’t be intimidated by the jargon. At first glance, phrases like hybrid cloud and acronyms like SaaS might seem like alien talk, but I promise you that they’re actually quite simple. Keep reading and I’ll prove it to you.
The Birth of the Cloud
While cloud computing is very much a term of the 21st century, the concept itself has roots that reach as far back as the 1950s. Remember the days of huge server rooms filled with gigantic computer mainframes? The mainframes were shared by multiple users via connections through shared terminals, with most of the computation occurring on the mainframes themselves.
Take that concept and add the distance of an Internet between the terminal and mainframe and it starts to look an awful lot like cloud computing, cloud storage, and other cloud services of today.
A cloud is a vast array of computers that are hooked together and meant to operate as a single ecosystem. Clouds are configured to offer one or more services (e.g. data storage, content delivery, or applications) and users, like you and me, can access these services remotely.
The result is that users can tap into a cloud’s power for specific purposes without having to deal with the setup or maintenance of the cloud itself.
But why was the term “cloud” picked? Nobody knows for sure, but it isn’t hard to imagine a plausible answer. A huge mass of individual units, when viewed from afar, can appear to be a singular cloud. Think of a cloud of locusts or bats. Well, the imagery can apply to computers as well.
Cloud Types and What They Mean
Clouds are typically divided into one of two classifications: deployment or service.
Deployment-wise, there are four categories:
- Private Cloud: Private clouds exist for use by a single entity or organization. Despite this, the cloud must still be located off-premise in order to be considered a cloud. Management of a private cloud can be done internally (by the entity using the cloud) or by a third party (who operates the cloud for said entity).
- Public Cloud: Public clouds are, unsurprisingly, open to the public. Structurally speaking, there isn’t much difference between a public cloud and a private cloud other than limitations on who can gain access. One popular example is Dropbox.
- Hybrid Cloud: When a cloud provider offers a combination of private and public clouds, it’s known as a hybrid cloud. This can occur, for example, when two separate clouds join together for shared functionality or when a particular company evolves and expands to offer additional services.
- Community Cloud: When a private cloud is shared amongst multiple entities or organizations, it becomes a community cloud. Or, viewed from a different angle, a community cloud is a semi-public cloud that’s restricted to a particular set of entities or organizations.
Service-wise, there are three main categories with more subcategories being defined as cloud services continue to evolve and improve:
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): When the service offered by a cloud involves computing resources – e.g. server hardware, networking bandwidth, or load-balancing systems – then it’s said to offer infrastructure. One well-known example is Amazon’s web services.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): When a cloud offers an environment that users can use to develop software, it’s offering a platform. This is useful for users who wish to focus on actual development without being burdened by the need to purchase or manage the underlying hardware and software that drives the platform. An example of a PaaS is Force.com
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): More commonly, the service offered by a cloud is to grant users access to apps and programs that reside on the cloud. Popular examples include Gmail, Basecamp, and Netflix.
The Future of Cloud Computing
Given what cloud technology can do, if you think about it for a moment, it’s amazing to realize just how much we depend on it in this age.
Mobile apps often save backups to cloud storage, whether Dropbox, Google Drive, or something else. Cloud infrastructure is what allows big names like Amazon and YouTube to deliver content to users quickly. Without clouds, we wouldn’t have half of the web apps that are available to us.
But more importantly, what does the future of cloud computing look like? What does it mean for us?
Security risks. Cloud storage allows users to gain access to their stored data, even after their devices unexpected fail or doing so through public terminals. The downside, however, is trusting the cloud provider to keep all of your data safe. As we move forward, cloud technology must ramp up security measures in order to match society’s growing dependence.
More web apps. The trend has already begun. Companies are pushing products that can only be used over the Web and, as the trend continues, we’re going to see more products adopt the Software-as-a-Service model.
The Internet of Things. Also known as the “fog” rather than the “cloud,” the Internet of Things is a very real future for us. Imagine a world where every device was interconnected though a massive network with the network itself being one giant cloud. Instead of pushing and pulling data to and from a remote cloud, everything would be available in a more local sense.
What a world we live in today. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
What do you see in the future of cloud computing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!