Technology Explained

What Is The Cloud?

Joel Lee 22-08-2014

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 10 Ways to Use Your Cloud Storage That You May Not Have Thought Of When we talk about cloud storage, it usually revolves around backup and collaboration. So, let’s try to find some more interesting ways to fill up all the space they give us for free. Read More .


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
  • 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 Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive: Which Cloud Storage Is Best for You? Have you changed the way you think about cloud storage? The popular options of Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive have been joined by others. We help you answer which cloud storage service should you use. Read More . 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 3 Tips To Stay Safe From The Dangers Of Cloud Computing Cloud computing is the big buzz these days and we have more choices available to us now than ever before. How many of us use Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google Drive on a daily basis? How... Read More . 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 What Is the Internet of Things? What is the Internet of Things? Here's everything you need to know about it, why it's so exciting, and some of the risks. Read More . 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!

Image Credit: Server Room Via Shutterstock, Device Cloud Via Shutterstock, Social Network Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage.

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  1. BentFranklin
    August 26, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    This article is weak sauce. Change "the cloud" to "the internet" everywhere and it says the same thing. Worse, it says nothing about the real reason "the cloud" is popular among providers: it's a massive power shift from users back to providers undoing the all benefits we have reaped in the personal computing revolution and turning our smart devices back into dumb terminals, albeit with color graphics.

  2. Andrew Schwarz
    August 24, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    And all this time I've been looking up at the sky and trying to distinguish One Drive from Google Drive from DropBox! Not to mention my first cloud -icloud! (now if I could only remember how to access the latter)?

    All that aside, is it possible to link all the clouds and have some easier controls over duplication? Or is that just a manual setup issue?

    Guess I'll hold onto my external drive until someone makes sense out of all this nonsense. ;)

  3. hernytan
    August 24, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Forgetting to turn off my Clouds-to-butts plugin made the entire article much funnier

  4. Justin
    August 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Type your response here
    Cloud storage?
    Infinite or finite?
    The webpages I'm saving today average 90 to 120 kb. If I find a page, a tutorial for instance, that I want to save to disk, I usually edit the page to remove the ads, javascript and other superfluous garbage and save only the author's message. That edited page results in a decrease in size from 120kb to 6kb!
    I've been hounding text editor developers for months to come up with an editor to literally reverse-engineer a web page so I can store 20 pages in the space I'm now saving one and still have all the data and images that I originally downloaded.
    I would think that providers of cloud storage would be all over that idea and develop something to accomplish a 20 fold increase in their store space.
    I have seen nothing! I can find nothing! Am I missing something?
    I'm a two-fingered hunt and peck typist and not a developer or I would have done this myself. Someone better and soon or the cloud will be so heavy it will sink into the ocean or behind the mountains where we can't get to it!

  5. Mark
    August 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Here's where the word "Cloud" came from. Back in the 1990s, PowerPoint became popular, and networks became complex as the norm. When marketing people gave presentations about network technologies, they needed to keep their slides as simple as possible. Often, much of the complexity of a network was irrelevant to whatever was being presented - audiences were typically only interested in what was happening at the edge of the network. The complex centre of the network was simplified and hidden in some simple shape, such as a box, or a black box, or a circle, or a cloud. PowerPoint had plenty of clip-art clouds. The idea was that it was irrelevant what was inside the cloud - it didn't matter that one couldn't see into the cloud. All that mattered was what went into and out of the cloud, that is, how it functioned.

    That's how the word "cloud" cam e to be used.

    • Nate
      December 17, 2017 at 5:22 am

      This is the reason? I didn't know why the cloud symbol was used other than it represented the whole of the Internet outside an external firewall and was to represent all of that to which was unknown. But it is nice to see that several people know that the term cloud derived from the symbol that was used to represent the Internet in presentations a diagrams. This article did not do a very good job of making that connection. The fact that the cloud is just buz for the internet. I think that would have really put this subject into perspective for the readers.

  6. dragonmouth
    August 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Cloud - a buzzword meaning a current reiteration of client-server setup.

    • Nate
      December 17, 2017 at 5:12 am

      This is incorrect friend. In every training class I have taken since 1999 the answer that Mark gave just before you holds true.

      • dragonmouth
        December 17, 2017 at 1:59 pm

        I know that my definition is incorrect. I was being sarcastic.

        I suppose what I should have said was that "Cloud" is just a current buzzword, like all those others that were in vogue for a little while but then disappeared from the vernacular.