Cloud Solutions

Cloud computing is a general term for the delivery of hosted services over the internet. It enables companies to consume a compute resource, such as a virtual machine (VM), storage or an application, as a utility, just like electricity, rather than having to build and maintain computing infrastructures in house.

Cloud computing characteristics and benefits

Cloud computing boasts several attractive benefits for businesses and end users. Five of the main benefits of cloud computing are:

  • Self-service provisioning: End users can spin up compute resources for almost any type of workload on demand. This eliminates the traditional need for IT administrators to provision and manage compute resources.

  • Elasticity: Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and scale down again as demands decrease. This eliminates the need for massive investments in local infrastructure, which may or may not remain active.

  • Pay per use: Compute resources are measured at a granular level, enabling users to pay only for the resources and workloads they use.

  • Workload resilience: Cloud service providers often implement redundant resources to ensure resilient storage and to keep users' important workloads running -- often across multiple global regions.

  • Migration flexibility: Organizations can move certain workloads to or from the cloud -- or to different cloud platforms -- as desired or automatically for better cost savings or to use new services as they emerge.

Types of cloud computing services

Although cloud computing has changed over time, it has been divided into three broad service categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS).

IaaS providers, such as AWS, supply a virtual server instance and storage, as well as APIs that enable users to migrate workloads to a VM. Users have an allocated storage capacity and can start, stop, access and configure the VM and storage as desired. IaaS providers offer small, medium, large, extra-large and memory- or compute-optimized instances, in addition to customized instances, for various workload needs.

In the PaaS model, cloud providers host development tools on their infrastructures. Users access these tools over the internet using APIs, web portals or gateway software. PaaS is used for general software development, and many PaaS providers host the software after it's developed. Common PaaS providers include Salesforce's, AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.

SaaS is a distribution model that delivers software applications over the internet; these applications are often called web services. Users can access SaaS applications and services from any location using a computer or mobile device that has internet access. One common example of a SaaS application is Microsoft Office 365 for productivity and email services.

A primer on public cloud benefits

With companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Rackspace offering the ability to create virtual machines in the cloud to support and replace physical servers, cloud virtualization services are being integrated into data center infrastructures.

Workload scaling

There are multiple ways a data center benefits from being extended to the cloud, and one involves workload scaling. There may be times your organization needs to ramp up a production workload beyond what the local data center can comfortably handle.

These ramp ups are busy periods for companies. As a result, existing servers may not be able to handle open enrollment workloads. Rather than buy new servers to accommodate temporary spikes in demand, the companies could use public cloud.

Business continuity

Another advantage of cloud-based VMs is protecting businesses in case of equipment failures or physical disasters.

To protect against data center failures, some organizations build geographic clusters that span multiple data centers. Then, if a natural disaster destroys an organization's primary data centers, mission-critical workloads fail over to secondary data centers.

Building geoclusters, however, is expensive and complicated. Alternatively, organizations can use public cloud to protect mission-critical workloads using guest clusters and VM replication.

A brief history of cloud computing

Cloud computing traces its origins back to the 1960s, when the computer industry recognized the potential benefits of delivering computing as a service or a utility.

However, early computing lacked the connectivity and bandwidth needed to implement computing as a utility. It wasn't until the broad availability of internet bandwidth in the late 1990s that computing as a service became practical.

In the late 1990s, Salesforce offered one of the first commercially successful implementations of enterprise SaaS. This was followed closely by the arrival of AWS in 2002, offering a range of services, including storage and computation -- and now embracing databases, machine learning and other services.

Today, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and other providers have joined AWS in providing cloud-based services to individuals, small businesses and global enterprises.