Setting up your own data center is complex and expensive: you will certainly need specialized personnel for acquisition and maintenance. Moreover, it can never be scaled as needed. After all, your business must grow, and your IT department must always be one step ahead.
For this reason, more resources are often made available than what the employees need. Since a functioning data center is vital for most businesses, failure to do so would mean work stoppage. And since no one can afford it, it’s better to spend too much than too little on a data center.
What problems do cloud computing solve? We’ll begin by looking at the history of cloud computing, then we’ll find out why you should use it.
History of cloud computing
Networking computers to provide more users with more computing power and storage space is not a new invention. The mainframes were already a step towards cloud computing in 1950. At that time, users could access the central computer via several terminals within the organization (in companies or universities) and use its capacity. In the beginning, however, it was timesharing: users had to reserve computing time and were allowed to use mainframe performance for their calculations during that time.
In the following decades, virtualization developed: this allowed computing instances to be built in an abstract way, in a purely virtual way. With the invention of the Internet, these virtualized environments were finally accessible online to everyone. Since the 1990s, these models have also been available in the market for a greater number of users.
Around this time, the concept of the cloud also became more popular. But it was not until the new millennium that businesses and individuals began to take more and more interest in technology. The first cloud computing offerings were still individual services: storage space for exchanging files, for example, or spreadsheets or documents from Google, where several users can work together on a document.
At the same time, Amazon began making its massive server farms available to other users: Amazon Web Services (AWS) allows other businesses to use and run the e-commerce giant’s infrastructure.
Cloud computing is now part of the daily life of many people. Most smartphones, or more broadly the Internet of Things, are in constant contact with the cloud. Users take a photo with their smartphone camera and automatically upload it to the Apple or Google cloud to access it again with another device.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is basically just a general term, which refers to the provision of hardware and software over the Internet. It does not define the extent to which the services are to be provided. They range from simple cloud storage, where users have storage capacity on remote servers in addition to their own hard drive space, to infrastructure in the cloud, where companies get full data centers on the Internet.
According to an article National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), offerings that provide cloud computing services must include the following characteristics:
- On-Demand Self-Service : It should be possible for users to independently request the necessary resources without having to contact the provider each time.
- Broad Network Access : Access to computing in the cloud is via the Internet. No unusual techniques or protocols can be used. Using standardized methods ensures that all users have trouble-free access to the service.
- Resource Pooling : The combination of multiple compute instances is the basic requirement for cloud computing. Most of the time, these pools are in the form of server farms, and are used to simultaneously provide multiple users with computing power or storage capacity. The customer rarely knows which device they are actually using because capacity is allocated dynamically.
- Rapid Elasticity : Capacity delivery must be rapid and on-demand. Ideally, activating or deactivating resources is done automatically, without assistance from customers or employees.
- Measured Service : the use of the cloud offer is continuously monitored. This creates more transparency for both the supplier and the user.
Cloud computing is often seen as an attempt to make computing available in a way that is similar to what we know of other infrastructure services: water comes from the tap, electricity from the socket, and the computing power from the Internet. Just as most people don’t need to know how a power plant works, cloud computing doesn’t require you to understand the makeup of a computer, either. The Internet user uses the resources (storage space, computing power) just like electricity and receives a corresponding bill.
Much like the powerhouse of the power grid, cloud computing is typically based on a large data center or server farm. Here, many computers (or servers) are connected and resources are grouped together. This calculation grid makes it possible to achieve high performance.
In combination with virtualization, virtual instances can be created for each of the users within the network. The user does not know what device their files are currently on, nor does it have to be. This is because access works quickly and smoothly, even without this information.
Variants of cloud computing
The market now includes a wide variety of products and services. These differ, with the exception of pricing and support services, especially when it comes to their allocation and deployment models. The term layer refers to the scope of the service and the delivery model identifies the type of offering.
The layered model
A layer corresponds to a certain level of service: the different layers as-a-service or teams designate the scope of the offer. Therefore, they are usually represented in a pyramid model. While Infrastructure as a Service has the greatest reach, Software as a Service focuses only on certain applications.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) : at this level, the supplier offers complete hardware solutions: processor performance, storage space and network technology. The instances the user uses are completely virtual and are distributed in the resource pool. IaaS can be used as the basis for the other layers, but is also offered as a single product.
- Plattform as a Service (PaaS) : This layer goes even further by providing not only the hardware but also a complete environment. PaaS is primarily aimed at software developers. The vendor offers a development environment already established in the cloud, on hosted hardware. This saves programmers the cost of adjusting and maintaining the environment.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) : With this additional layer, users are offered complete software from the cloud. SaaS is therefore aimed primarily at average consumers. They no longer have to worry about software installation and maintenance, and can also be confident that the hardware performance is sufficient for the software to work properly. To access the software, users use either a web browser or a restricted program that loads it largely from the cloud.
- Everything as a Service (XaaS) : Besides the three work layers mentioned above, other services are also advertised repeatedly by vendors. In principle, however, this is only done for marketing reasons. In fact, an XaaS can still be assigned to another layer or has nothing to do with cloud computing : anymore Humans as a Service (HuaaS) , for example, denotes a form of crowdsourcing. A group of people take over the work via the Internet.
The contracts describe the type of offer: Are the instances for a single user/company only, or do you share the pool with other people? The answer to this question leads to the service and contract model.
- Private Cloud: the servers are used exclusively by a single client. A private cloud can exist, but it is not mandatory (internal cloud). Even with a hosting provider with a farm of servers, it is possible to use dedicated hardware that other customers of the provider do not have access to.
- Community Cloud: The Community Cloud works the same as a private cloud, but with this model, multiple customers share a dedicated hardware instance. The combination of users is not chosen at random, but several clients, mostly from the same industry or with similar interests, come together in a targeted manner. The Community Cloud can also be managed within a company or outside. The goal is to save money compared to multiple private clouds.
- Public Cloud: this type of contract corresponds to the real idea behind a cloud. In collaboration with the general public, a network of servers is used. Knowing who uses what equipment is not visible to the user.
- Hybrid Cloud: This is a hybrid of both private and public models. A company or private user decides to leave some part of the operation (e.g. security aspects) in the private environment and choose the public cloud for the rest.
Should I use cloud computing?
Cloud computing brings great benefits, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises: acquiring a clean IT infrastructure, including servers, is complex, costs a lot of money, and requires constant maintenance afterward, to which it is necessary to call upon specialized personnel who must be remunerated.
However, without a data center, most businesses would no longer operate. Cloud computing provides a solution tailored to the needs: the hardware is then purchased and maintained by professionals, and in the company itself, only simple and inexpensive terminals are needed for the employees who use it to access the computer.
Additionally, professional server farms, such as those used by cloud computing providers, are generally much more secure than what one might get locally in one’s own business. Security personnel protects the system from physical access by strangers, specialists protect servers from digital attacks, and fire protection experts ensure that no fire destroys the data. In addition, many cloud computing providers make it mandatory to back up all data.
However, cloud computing also has its drawbacks, which is why many companies are still hesitant to use it. For some companies, for example, the lack of adaptation is a reason to reject the model. With the different cloud computing providers, you are sometimes more or less dependent on their configurations. If the supplier has to shut down his business, there is inevitably a problem. You also need a strong internet connection. If this process is too slow or stops regularly, employees cannot work effectively with cloud computing.
However, it is the issue of data protection that is likely to raise the biggest questions. There are two ways to do this: While it is true that the data is secure on-site, transmission over the Internet always involves a security risk. The other data security issue often relates to the location of the data center. While European suppliers always comply with local data protection regulations, this may not necessarily be the case with other international suppliers.
For example, under the Patriot Act, US companies are required to disclose data to US authorities upon request. As cloud computing companies sometimes place critical data in the hands of other companies. It is therefore legitimate to feel a certain skepticism towards them.
Of course, cloud computing doesn’t come free either, so users should consider exactly what capacity they need, and most importantly when. Businesses tend to book more in the cloud context than they actually need because the direct costs are so low. But these add up. This is not always the case, however: with many providers, instances can be released at short notice when they are no longer needed. This saves costs.
|No acquisition costs||Requires a strong and constant internet connection|
|No capital commitment||Personal data protection concerns|
|Scalable as needed||Dependence on the supplier|
|No qualified personnel is needed||Security risk during transfer|
|Data centers are perfectly maintained and secure||Low prices encourage you to book more than you need in total|
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