Well fundamentally it’s all about where data is stored. In the early days of computing all your data was stored on your computer’s hard disk drive, or media such as floppy disk or tapes. This included the data that was used to make your computer work – software such as the operating system and programs. Up until the last few years this was still the way most home users operated.
Then came networks – for businesses and organisations networks provide a more efficient way of working. Instead of each individual machine in a business (possibly hundreds or thousands) keeping data on its hard drive, data is stored centrally on a server. This gives advantages of being able to share data easily, backup this data in one place instead of many and much more flexible storage expansion. Software like the operating system and programs are still stored on individual PCs but can be installed via the central server, rather than manually with disks.
Now the cloud – instead of storing data on a PC or a locally managed server, data is stored in a remote datacenter (a large group of servers in a secure location) run by a cloud provider. The data is then accessed over the internet from anywhere with an internet connection. This datacenter is so far removed from the end user that their data appears to be stored in a “cloud” on the internet.
You’re probably already using it – The most common reason most of us have used the cloud is to store our data, either to easily share and sync data between our PCs and devices using a service such as Dropbox, with our music collection on iTunes, our pictures on Flickr or a social network like Facebook.
But it’s not only our data that can sit in the cloud, our applications can as well – Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail – are all email applications that sit in the cloud, you never have to install them and you can access them from anywhere.
So those are the bits of the cloud you’ve probably heard of and used, even if you didn’t know it at the time! So what else can the cloud do? Well pretty much anything you can do locally, here’s how cloud services are broken down with some examples:
Software-as-a-service – SaaS – equivalent to programs
Instead of installing software on your computer you log in and use it online, such as webmail, Google Docs and customer relationship management software eg Salesforce.
Platform-as-a-service – PaaS – equivalent to the operating system
This is a base from which software developers can build applications, eg Google Apps or Force.com for Salesforce.
Infrastructure-as-a-service – equivalent to servers
Some things you might just need a whole server for, but why not have that server in the cloud? Infrastructure-as-a-service does just that, provides virtual servers that you can log into remotely and control in a similar fashion as you would your local server. Amazon and Microsoft provide such services.
We hope this article has given you a greater understanding of cloud computing, in future articles we’ll look into the benefits of cloud computing, and our area of specialisation, cloud backup.