What is the cloud?

The cloud refers to servers accessible remotely through the Internet.

You’ve likely heard the term “the cloud” in reference to computing, but what exactly does it mean?

Cloud computing may sound like a bad sitcom about celestial beings struggling with technology, but in the real world, it means something else. Even if you don’t know what the cloud is, you probably take advantage of it every day. It helps you communicate, consume entertainment, and manage data. Let’s learn more about it.

What is the cloud in simple terms?

So, what exactly is the cloud, and how is it different from local computers and servers? In a nutshell, the cloud refers to servers accessible remotely through the Internet. Cloud companies maintain large networks of servers that individuals and other companies use to store data and enable the use of online services like streaming video, social media, web mail, and many other tools, as noted below.

What is cloud computing?

Meanwhile, cloud computing refers to delivering various processes and services through the cloud, like data backup, data synchronization, video streaming, app testing, data analysis, and much more. Contrast this with the data you store or process locally on your computer or the servers at your office. That data is stored on a drive that is physically located in your computer or office, whereas data stored “in the cloud” is located on servers in data centers managed by cloud providers.

Cloud computing examples

  • Video streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, HBO Max
  • Cloud gaming services: NVIDIA GeForce Now, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Google Stadia, PlayStation Now
  • Email: Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail
  • Data Storage: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive
  • Image Sharing: Flickr, iCloud Photos
  • Word Processing: Google Docs
  • Cybersecurity: Malwarebytes Nebula cloud-hosted security platform
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Microsoft Office 365

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

Remote Access

Remote access was already a significant benefit of cloud computing. Your email, video game save files, documents, or company servers are accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection on the cloud. But cloud computing usage has spiked in recent years, partially because consumers are spending more time at home and away from offices.

Processing Power

Your computer or device doesn't have to do all the heavy processing work with cloud computing. For example, you don’t need a state-of-the-art CPU, GPU, or RAM to play a demanding AAA game with cloud gaming. You also don’t need an SSD or HDD for gaming on the cloud because you’re not downloading gigabytes of data. Besides gaming, cloud computing is also useful for other activities that require significant processing power that you don’t want your computer to have to handle.

Security

A reputable cloud storage service is likely to have better security than your device or laptop. For example, if you lose your device through hardware failure or theft, you probably won't see your data again unless it's on the cloud.

Of course, cloud computing isn’t foolproof. For example, servers are vulnerable to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, natural disasters, power outages, etc. Users can also be fooled by social engineering hacks like cloud phishing in which a threat actor uses the guise of cloud computing services to trick victims into clicking malicious links. In fact, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warns cybercriminals want your cloud services accounts.

Lower Costs

Businesses are migrating the cloud in record numbers. Gartner says that 85% of enterprises will embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025. In addition to security and remote access, cost reduction is a significant reason. For example, one of the world’s largest airlines, Emirates Airlines, said it expects to save AED 3.8 million (USD 1 million) annually after a cloud shift.

Companies with their infrastructure on the cloud don’t have to deal with operational costs like maintenance, repair, and upgrades. In addition, they don’t need to run redundant technology that only comes in handy a few times a year during peak hours. With cloud-based services, they can scale up and down easily.

Innovation

Companies can innovate with new ideas, services, applications because cloud-based computing is more flexible. For example, they can build and dismantle projects more quickly and cost-effectively. Cloud computing also fosters collaboration, which may boost creativity. 

Drawbacks of cloud computing

The most significant drawback of cloud computing is that you usually need generous bandwidth (check the difference between bandwidth and Internet speed) to utilize demanding cloud services like high-end gaming or 4K movie streaming. The Internet connection also needs to be stable for you to use cloud-based services without disruption. Similarly, your work will suffer if your company’s cloud servers are down.

What are the disadvantages of using cloud storage?

Your data is vulnerable to any hacker in the world with an Internet connection if your login credentials are compromised. To protect your cloud storage account, you should use a sophisticated password and activate two-factor authentication. Learning to spot phishing emails can also help. You can read these tips on cloud data protection for more information.

Cloud computing delivery models

Software as a Service (SaaS)

With SaaS services, you access applications on the cloud, typically on a pay-as-you-go payment plan. The service always has complete control over the cloud or infrastructure. Dropbox and MailChimp are good examples of SaaS. 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

When you need cost-effective and flexible virtualization, storage, security, or networking infrastructure on-demand services, you use IaaS. AWS (Amazon Web Services) EC2 is an excellent example of IaaS. It provides virtual servers for businesses that want to host cloud-based apps.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS offers on-demand access to software and hardware tools for cloud-based platform services. Customers of PaaS utilize these tools to develop software. Dokku is a widely-used example of this type of cloud delivery model.

Examples of cloud providers

Microsoft Azure

Previously known as Windows Azure, Microsoft Azure is the American multinational technology company’s cloud computing service. It offers over 200 services and allows clients to customize their builds and deployments deeply. Azure offers PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS.

AWS

AWS stands for Amazon Web Services. According to Amazon, it’s the world’s most broadly adopted cloud platform. Like Microsoft, Amazon offers a mixture of PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS.

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