What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a means of providing computing services (including databases, servers, software, and networking) via the internet, allowing the user to bypass direct management of those systems. Cloud computing is a way to remotely store and access data and programming that utilizes the internet rather than hosting information on your computer’s hard drive.
In essence, cloud computing is designed to streamline processes for developers and non-developers alike with the ultimate goal being to connect and share cloud and on-premise data. Think of cloud computing, fundamentally, as a delivery method.
If you’ve uploaded a photo to Dropbox or reacted to a friend’s new baby on Facebook, then you’ve already experienced cloud computing. Dropbox is a cloud storage system that allows you to expand the ability to store files. Facebook was one of the first companies to innovate a database system scalable across hundreds or thousands of servers: a major contribution to the world of cloud computing.
Though very basic versions of cloud computing have been around since the 1960s, it has advanced immensely since its early iteration, and it’s a version of data storage that’s here to stay. According to Forbes, by 2020, some 83% of enterprise workloads will exist in the cloud. And your business might not get there all at once: hybrid cloud integration is also a popular option for many companies. Consider the below opportunities that cloud computing can bring to your business.
Types of cloud computing services explained
One of the biggest challenges companies currently face is an increasing complexity in data, with the sheer amount of data to manage doubling every two years. Business leaders must make decisions around integrating new data sources (cloud, SaaS, unstructured data) along with routing legacy data (ERP, on-premises data warehouses) into new data destinations (data lakes, cloud data warehouses).
With great data management comes great responsibility. Here are the most basic services you’ll need to understand in order to begin your decision-making process:
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
IaaS is the most basic level of cloud solution in a cloud computing model. In an IaaS model, a cloud provider (rather than an on-premises data center) hosts infrastructure components like servers and networking hardware. It’s an optimal option for companies looking to build applications from scratch and have more control; however it does require internal technical skills for successful execution.
Platform as a service (PaaS)
PaaS is the next step up from IaaS. With PaaS, in addition to infrastructure, providers offer the software and tools needed to build applications. This could include operating systems, graphic user interface, programming languages and database management, for instance.
Software as a service (SaaS)
In the SaaS model, providers host and manage the infrastructure and applications for users. With SaaS, the user is not required to install anything since the software is hosted in the cloud. Purchasers do have some control when it comes to configuring settings, such as designating authorized users or creating customized dashboards.
5 benefits of cloud computing
Cloud computing offers many opportunities to streamline operations for both business leaders and end-users. Here are five examples of those benefits:
- Pay-Per-Use: Software piracy has long been a concern for developers as it leads to revenue loss through unauthorized product usage. With cloud computing, resources are measured on a per-use basis, cutting down on both piracy risks and company costs.
- Resiliency: Cloud computing has dramatically altered the way application resiliency works. Where previously, an equipment failure or power outage could potentially result in a major disruption, now, cloud computing advances mean that a server, network, or entire data center is able to recover quickly from such an incident and continue operating.
- Elasticity: While there may be opportunities to scale up infrastructure (i.e., an application that needs to be in place for thousands of users following a one-time marketing campaign), if you can’t scale back down when needed, those resources will be left sitting on the table, losing you valuable dollars. Elasticity is unique in its ability to easily scale both up and down.
- Self-service (or automated) provisioning: This allows developers and tech-savvy users to have control over set up or launch for a service or application without needing input from a dedicated IT team. This means more automation, speed, and predictability, as well as lower costs, when creating both internal and customer-facing resources.
- Migration flexibility: Though the initial steps of migrating all of your company’s data, applications, and infrastructure over to the cloud are complex and take some upfront time, once you’re there, the ease with which data can be transferred to and from the cloud will pay off in terms of cost savings and the ability to use new and emerging services with greater ease.
Cloud computing advantages and disadvantages
In addition to these more technical benefits of cloud computing, there are larger picture reasons to embrace this technology and, equally, considerations to take into account before fully committing your company’s resources.
Advantages of cloud computing
Ease of sharing files. In a global age where it’s almost a guarantee that team members are stationed in different states or countries, the ease with which files can be shared and edited regardless of location is a massive plus.
Cost saving potential to businesses. A more traditional in-house solution comes at a higher cost when your data, applications, or servers need a boost, requiring hardware investments. With the scalability provided by the cloud, if your data needs to shift, the cloud shifts with you, thereby saving you or your company at the bank.
Faster software upgrades. Whether you’re head of corporate sales or the CEO of your burgeoning start-up, almost nothing can cut through the start of a productive work day like a software update that’s taking hours to install. Cloud-based applications have a solution here too: they automatically refresh and update themselves so downtime is minimized.
Disadvantages of cloud computing
Employee learning curve. You want to ensure you’re hiring employees with the right skill sets. In a 2016 study, Cloud Foundry identified three key areas for employers to consider when scouting out and maintaining successful cloud hirees, including:
- A widespread shortage in developers poses a real threat to onboarding talent.
- There is an increased demand for specialized technology skills.
- Continuous training of current employees is the best solution to this skills shortage.
Failing to keep a competitive edge. Using an SaaS application, for instance, could mean using the same applications as the competition, making it more difficult to get a leg up if that application is at the center of your business strategy.
Loss of data. While not having to buy hardware lowers overall costs, it also potentially increases the risk of losing data (and that loss may not always be malicious) since storage is off-site. Permanent loss of customer data can occur via accidental deletion or even via natural disasters. And mishandling on the part of the provider isn’t the only way data loss can occur. Customers who improperly encrypt data can cause a permanent loss, as well as employees who misunderstand storage models and their proper usage.
Security issues. Part of what cloud computing does is run software, which inherently has vulnerabilities, making data subject to risks commercial, financial, legal and technical. However, in cloud computing, unlike information technology systems in a more traditional data center, responsibility for monitoring risks that result from those vulnerabilities is shared between the commerce service provider and the cloud consumer. Meaning that if a company doesn’t do its due diligence and take full responsibility for understanding and implementing proper security measures, it could be placing itself at risk for a cybersecurity breach. Making it all the more critical to consider all potential security risks before committing to migrating your business over to the cloud.
Take a look here for a deeper insight into the benefits and disadvantages to committing to a multi-cloud strategy.
Importance of security in the cloud
A top priority for data protection is having the best possible security measures in place. For many companies, this could mean developing an integration strategy to securely move data from on-site servers to the cloud.
One of the most basic concerns a company has is simply: “Will my data be safe in the cloud?” For an answer, look to your existing infrastructure. An internal IT team that’s overstretched, but still trying to manage internal systems will likely be less effective at preventing data from being compromised than a team of cloud provider engineers whose sole focus is the monitoring and safekeeping of your company’s data.
Additionally, implementing third-party tools, rather than just relying on the cloud provider alone, can add an extra layer of security and control. Forrester reports that by 2023 the global market for cloud security technologies will reach $12.7 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 2018. However, keep in mind that adding these extra measures can both increase costs and potentially negatively affect performance.
Read more here about the importance of creating a secure strategy for data integration within the cloud
GDPR and cloud computing
The European General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) concerns European Union citizens' data privacy and affects the way organizations approach data privacy for that population.
So how does cloud computing figure into GDPR compliance? First, cloud computing is partly a data processing contract and therefore a cloud user needs to be made aware of the way their data is being used and processed. Your company needs to ensure it’s offering clear guidelines on the user end and, equally, working with cloud providers and resource providers which also meet the basic legal requirements for all cloud services under GDPR.
Both GDPR and bigger picture data protection should be priorities for your company. To recap, steps should be taken to:
- Invest in a savvy team of cloud provider engineers
- Implement third-party tools to add an extra layer of protection
- Ensure your business is GDPR compliant
The big 3 cloud platforms: AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud
Once you’ve considered the security implications, it’s time to look at choosing a platform. By far, the three heaviest hitters when it comes to IaaS and PaaS cloud computing technology are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.
Amazon dominates the cloud services market today, followed by Microsoft and Google which still each have a relatively critical market share. Knowing which platform to choose is going to depend on the level of data integration your company needs. Here’s a look at the benefits of each:
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
AWS is the leader in providing services for companies looking to manage costs and simplify data architectures. AWS uses IaaS which means you only purchase the amount of resources, networking, and data storage needed from the provider.
Microsoft Azure holds 13% of the cloud infrastructure services market—and there’s a reason. The platform has a large variety of data management, tech, and cloud computing capabilities. And its offerings range from messaging and mobile applications, in addition to technologies like IoT and machine learning.
Google Cloud Platform
Small business owners should pay extra attention to Google Cloud as the platform was initially designed to serve this group, though it certainly works for enterprise-level organizations too. In addition to app solutions (mobile, social, i.e.), the platform offers cloud storage, large-scale computing solutions (like batch processing and data processing), as well as big data solutions.
The rise of cloud computing
The concept of cloud computing is by no means new. As early as the 1960s, efforts have been made to separate users from the gridlock of more traditional computer hardware. But the term “cloud computing” emerged more concretely in the 1990s when the “Cloud” was used to describe the space between the end user and the provider.
In 1997, Emory University’s Professor Ramnath Chellapa called cloud computing the new “computing paradigm, where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale, rather than technical limits alone.”
In 2006, Amazon launched Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides online services to users and other companies via globally-based data centers. In that same year, Google launched its Google Docs services. And in 2011, Apple first introduced the iCloud.
Since then, cloud computing has gone from being an option companies were resistant to adopting, to a ubiquitous and necessary model for many cutting edge businesses. As a result, organizations have now begun to view the pay-as-you-go cloud billing model as one that’s here to stay.
The future of cloud computing
Though its history dates almost 60 years back, cloud computing adoption is moving at a swift pace, with 83% of enterprise workloads migrating to the cloud by 2020. Some 41% of those workloads will be run on public cloud platforms (such as AWS), with an additional 20% predicted to be private-cloud-based and another 22% running on hybrid cloud platforms.
The future of cloud computing — as well as the data integration that goes along with it — is bright. In order to set your company up for the best fit in terms of both cloud services and the knowledge to successfully integrate those services, it is key to understand the basic services (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) as well as platforms and security risks.
To further your understanding of the cloud, sign up for this complimentary Cloud Architecture Handbook, which will walk you through how to build an end-to-end cloud integration platform using Google Cloud Platform and Talend. You’ll learn how to improve conversion and sales rates, create a business intelligence data lake to streamline operations, as well as build a customer 360 in the cloud.
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